Backstrom walks in footsteps of Sweden's greatest

Backstrom walks in footsteps of Sweden's greatest
February 12, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was 6 years old when Peter Forsberg scored in a shootout to give Sweden its first Olympic gold medal in 1994.

“I think everyone in Sweden has seen that goal,” Backstrom said. “Many times.”

Forsberg’s goal against Canada in the gold medal game was so historic in Sweden, it was memorialized on a postage stamp.Eight years later, the Swedes won gold again in TurinItaly, with an aging Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mats Sundin leading the way.

It is with that historical backdrop that Backstrom, now 26, will make his second Olympic appearance for Team Sweden, with an eye on avenging a fifth-place finish in 2010. Backstrom had a goal and four assists in four games in that tournament.

“It’s an amazing experience to represent your country,” Backstrom said before leaving for Sochi. “It’s a big event. There’s a lot of emotion and that’s what makes it so special.”

With Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and Henrik Lundqvist, the Swedes have a balance of youth and experience and, despite the absences of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, they are a popular pick to medal.

“We have a really good team,” Backstrom said. “From what I’ve heard, the favorites are Canada and Russia, but I think we’re good, too, and it’s also good to be underdogs and surprise a couple teams.

“Hopefully, we can get it together and play as good as we can.”

The Swedes open play Wednesday against the Czech Republic, then take on Switzerland and Latvia on Friday and Saturday.

“Backy’s played with all those guys and they all know him,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “They’ll have chemistry the second they walk in. They only get a couple practices, so it won’t take them long at all.”

Backstrom said he believes the wider Olympic ice surface will benefit the Swedes, especially against the Canadians and Americans.

“It’s going to be a different game than what we’re used to [in the NHL],” Backstrom said. “Hopefully, it works to our advantage out there. Obviously, you’re going to skate more but you’re going to have more time to make plays. We all grew up playing on the big ice and hopefully we still know how to play.”

Oates said he believes Backstrom’s skill set allows him to play on any size ice.

“I don’t think it matters to him,” Oates said. “For a guy like that, I think the smaller ice surface would be better because you’re forcing a guy to make quicker decisions and that’s one of his skill sets, his ability to make reads.”

Backstrom is being joined in Sochi by his mother, father and brother.

“I’m probably not going to see them too much because of games and practices and staying in the village,” Ovechkin said.