Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has traveled the world and played a key role for his country on an international scale throughout his impressive career.
He helped Sweden to a first-place finish at the 2007 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He won silver medals while patrolling Sweden's blue line at the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championship. And he earned a bronze medal at the 2010 World Championship after totaling one goal, two points and a plus-5 rating in nine games.
The one tournament missing from his resume is the granddaddy of them all: The Olympics.
"It would mean a lot to be a part of the [Swedish team] at the 2014 Olympics," Hedman told NHL.com. "The Olympics are as good as it gets on the international level so it would be a big honor for me to go [to Sochi, Russia] and bring gold home for Sweden."
Earning a roster spot along the back end for Sweden's team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics won't be easy. In fact, defense might be the strongest area on a team that traditionally has the talent to score at will on an international level.
Hedman will be battling NHL stars Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Jonas Brodin (Minnesota Wild), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix Coyotes), Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago Blackhawks) and Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings), to name a few.
"I've been happy with my play this year," said Hedman, who has two goals and five assists while averaging 21:09 of ice time per game. "The way I've been playing I've been able to use my speed a little more and join the rush. Playing with [partner] Sami Salo definitely helps. I always want to get better and you could never be satisfied with anything but you just have to maintain focus and keep playing."
Hedman's greatest Olympic moment was watching Sweden capture gold at the 2006 Turin Games. Coincidentally, Sweden's gold-medal journey saw the team defeat Salo and Finland in the championship game.
The 6-foot-6, 233-pound Hedman, the second pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, has patterned his game after four-time Swedish Olympian Nicklas Lidstrom. It was Lidstrom who scored the game-winner against Finland in the 2006 gold-medal game.
Hedman feels playing on an Olympic-sized ice surface, which is 15 feet wider than the rinks in North America, will benefit his style of play.
"I grew up playing on the big surface and a lot of my strengths were noticed from playing there," he said. "When I'm at my best I skate a lot, so that's a big part of it. You need to skate more when on the bigger ice surface. During the [2012-13] work stoppage I was playing in Russia and it wasn't a big deal for me to adjust to the bigger ice. I think it'll be an advantage for all the European teams."
Hedman had one goal, 20 points and a plus-1 rating in 26 games for Barys Astana of the Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout last season.
He said his country would certainly enjoy an opportunity to play Russia on its home turf in the Olympics. If the teams do meet, it would be in the medal round since Sweden is part of the four-team Group C that includes Czech Republic, Latvia and Switzerland. Russia is part of Group A, which also consists of Slovenia, Slovakia and the United States.
"Whenever you play the Russians you always want to beat them," Hedman said. "They always have a tremendous team with a lot of skill. It's going to be a tough game for sure with the home crowd and everything, but no team is impossible to beat. It would be a great feeling to beat them. Hey, you have to beat the best to win the gold; so you have to have the mindset that you need to beat every team to go all the way."
The last time Sweden and Russia met in the medal round of the Olympics was the semifinals of the 1994 Norway Games when Sweden scored a 4-3 victory. The Swedes would win gold that year after defeating Canada 3-2 in a shootout in the tournament championship.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
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