Several Rangers are making it over to Sochi Russia for the Games of the XXII Olympiad. Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin and Marc Staal were waiting with anxious anticipation to see if they had made their respective countries teams. Henrik Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello were the only locks to join teammates: Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonough at the games in Sochi. When Team Canada announced its roster today, Rick Nash was on it. Sweden also included Carl Hagelin on theirs; while Marc Staal was not on Canada’s roster. Anton Stralman never really had a shot considering the Swedes left off players like Victor Headman to name one, and there are more.
Today general manager Steve Yzerman of Team Canada announced Rick is joining his countrymen in Sochi. This came as a surprise to some, especially when you look at the list of players left off in favor of Nash. Martin St. Louis, Logan Couture, and Claude Giroux come to mind. Yzerman and Hockey Canada must have taken into account Nash’s international experience where he has excelled, at times. Also in favor of Nash was the fact that he can play the right-wing. On a team, that is top-heavy with centers and will be forced to play players out of position, Nash gives the coaching staff a player who has extensive experience playing either wing. This versatility surely came into play in Hockey Canada’s thinking.
Rick Nash has been asked on seven occasions to represent his native Canada for international play. He did so for the first time in 2002 at the World Junior Championships. Nash had one goal and two assists, three points in seven games, earning a silver medal (Side note; this was the same World Junior’s in which Henrik Lundqvist played for Sweden). Nash represented Team Canada at the World Senior Championships on four occasions, playing in 34 games, scoring 23 goals and 21 assists. He was on the team that finished a disappointing seventh in 2006 and earned gold while playing alongside Jonathan Towes and Mike Richards in 2010. Nash was named captain of Team Canada for the World Championships in 2011.
Despite representing his country three times, including twice in the World Juniors, Marc Staal was left off Team Canada. Staal was a surprise to be invited over the likes of many, including Dan Girardi, to Team Canada’s orientation camp. That was as far as it went though. Injuries and inconsistent play sealed his fate. As a matter of fact, none of the three Staal brothers made the cut after being invited to orientation camp.
Mats Zuccarello is the anticipated focal point of the Norwegians’ hopes in Sochi. Zuccarello has extensive international experience, and he is only one of a handful of Norwegian trained players to make it to the NHL. Mats represented Norway 55 times in international competitions, scoring 12 goals and 15 assists. Mats will need to have a spectacular tournament for the Norwegians to pull an upset. In the last Olympics, Mats played in four games, had a goal and two assists, and earned the attention of NHL scouts. This time around, NHL players from competing countries will be very well aware of Zuccarello. Being the only NHL player on Team Norway, Mats will not have the caliber of line mates as in New York. This could bode well the Rangers and Zuccarello, if he has a good tournament. The confidence boost, on top of a so far successful season in New York, could earn the unrestricted free agent to be, an even bigger raise for next season. The Norwegians will be forced to play a defensive style of game to make up for the lack of individual skill missing from their team and compared to others. This can also help Mats’s confidence by being the sole offensive focal point for the Norwegian team. Upon returning to New York, this may bring even more confidence and upside to his game; which has taken off this year. Either way it should be a good experience for Mats to be a team leader. This leadership experience will only help with his NHL career.
Carl Hagelin was on the bubble as to whether or not he would make the Swedish Olympic team. He got his answer, and it was the one he was looking for. Hagelin actually fits the Swedish roster like a glove. His skating style fits right in to the torpedo up-tempo offense the Swedish national team likes to play. Hagelin could thrive playing in a completely up-tempo system. It also benefited Hagelin that the Swedish brain trust went with an all NHL roster with the exception of only one player, Jimmie Ericsson, who plays for Skelleftea in the Swedish Hockey League. Hagelin can also give the Swedish coaching staff depth as a penalty killer and a fourth line specialist. The larger ice surface will definitely help a player with Hagelin’s skating ability. This will be Hagelin’s second time representing Sweden in international competition. He played played 6 games for Sweden in the 2007 World Juniors; without registering a point.
Henrik Lundqvist gave the Swedish people one of their finest hours in Olympic hockey. His play in the 2006 Olympics made him a Swedish legend. Sweden stacks a medal caliber team in these XXII Winter Olympics. Even with that, they will need Lundqvist to be on his game for Sweden to win a medal. No stranger to international competition, Lundqvist, aside from the Olympic gold-medal, has represented Sweden 51 times on the world stage. Team Sweden’s lack of a medal in the 2010 Vancouver games was not because of their goal tending. Lundqvist had a two and one record, with goals-against average of 1.34 and save percentage of .927. Sweden is a deep team that is always fun to watch. They play a torpedo offense which is constantly trying to force the puck down their opponents’ throat. In order for a team to be successful playing this system, they need top-flight goal tending and Lundqvist will need to be on the top of his game if the Swedes make the medal round. Lundqvist has had a sub-par season, by his standards, so far in New York; maybe a solid Olympic tournament is exactly what is needed to regain his form.