Nine Wings head to IIHF tourney
DETROIT – With the Stanley Cup playoffs coming to an unceremonious early end for the Red Wings last week, many of the players are planning trips to Europe.
But this isn’t a vacation for the guys headed to Sweden and Finland.
The Wings are sending nine players – eight from the current roster – to represent six different countries in the IIHF World Championship from May 4-20.
In a weird way, an invitation to play for your country at this time of year is a nice consolation prize for those players not fortunate to reach the conference finals with their NHL clubs.
“It is nice. For me personally I want to get a better ending on this season than this,” said Wings center Henrik Zetterberg, who along with Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson will play for Sweden. “Going home and playing in front of friends and family it’s awesome, so we’re happy that we can go.”
Forward Justin Abdelkader and goalie Jimmy Howard are making their debuts on the U.S. Men’s National Team, though each player has represented the United States in the past.
“They invited me, so, yeah, I just found out yesterday,” Abdelkader said. “Anytime you can play for your country, represent your country it’s a big honor and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Other Wings that will compete in the upcoming 17-day tournament include center Pavel Datsyuk (Russia), forward Valtteri Filppula (Finland), defenseman Jakub Kindl(Czech Republic) and prospect Tomas Tatar (Slovakia).
The 16-team field will be divided into two equal groups. The U.S., Canada, Slovakia, Finland, Belarus, France, Kazakhstan and Switzerland will play in Helsinki, while Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Denmark and Italy will play its preliminary games in Stockholm.
The tournament will conclude with the semifinals and medal-round games in Helsinki on May 19-20.
Abdelkader, who won a college national championship at Michigan State, also played for the U.S. National Junior Team that won the bronze medal at the 2007 World Junior Championship.
“I was 19 and actually when over to Sweden, too, so just looking forward to it,” Abdelkader said.
For the Wings’ Swedish players, playing back home at the Ericsson Globe, where the Wings began the 2009-10 season with two games against St. Louis, will be an awesome experience.
“Yeah, it is a big deal,” Zetterberg said. “I played one World Championship back home in ’01. It’s a lot of fun, but that was 11 years ago. Then six years ago we went over and won the (Olympic) gold, so when you get the opportunity, and we don’t get them a lot, it is an honor. You’d rather be playing here, for sure, but when everything went the way it went you get the call and it’s hard to say no.”
Someone who hasn’t made up his mind as to whether or not to accept his invitation is defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who is from Stockholm and has a younger brother, Staffan, currently on the national team roster.
“I’m not quite sure yet,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I have some personal stuff that needs to be taken care of, but we’ll play it by ear this week and we’ll see.”
Just in case he decides to go, Kronwall will skate this week at Joe Louis Arena with the other Wings’ players heading to the tournament.
“There are a lot of intriguing things about going home, but my brother is still on the team now, we’ll see if he makes it, so it would be fun to possibly have a chance to play with him,” Kronwall said. “At the same time of the other guys here are going, it would be fun.”
Two Swedes not going are Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired from international competition following the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and rookie forwardGustav Nyquist.
Still, Team Sweden should be a favorite choice for gold next month.
“We should have a good team,” Zetterberg said. “We’ll have some nice acquisitions from over here, though they still have some good players from back home. It doesn’t start until next Friday, so a lot of (NHL) teams could be out and we could get some more players as well.”