On top of the World
Swede All-Stars flash 2002 Olympics promise
Updated: Monday February 05, 2001 8:28 AM
By Robert Rodriguez, CNNSI.com
How Swede it was to be at the All-Star Game.
Throughout the weekend, Olympic talk surfaced when the NHL decided it would only close up shop for 12 days to accommodate the 2002 Olympics.
Judging from Sunday's All-Star Game, it seems Sweden already looks to be the team to beat in Salt Lake City.
The country, known more for its blondes than brawn, had a strong day on the ice in North America's 14-12 victory against the World team.
Mats Sundin scored two first-period goals and had two assists. Both Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund scored their first career All-Star goals, as did Nicklas Lidstrom (his coming with one second left in the game). Fredrik Modin dished out four assists, one shy of the All-Star Game record, three of which went to his fellow countrymen.
"It's fun playing with your fellow countrymen," Sundin said. "I enjoy watching all of them play, particularly Fredrik. I think you will see more of him in these games in the near future."
Lidstrom and Forsberg started for the World team at defenseman and center, respectively. Naslund, the leading goal scorer in the NHL, was a deserving All-Star pick. But both Sundin and Modin were considered questionable selections. Sundin is having an off-year by his standards and Modin was an unheralded player for the struggling Lightning.
"I thought I deserved to be out here with these guys," Sundin said. "Whatever the argument may be, I still had a great time with everyone here."
It already had been a special weekend for Modin, who won the Hardest Shot title in the SuperSkills competition Saturday.
"It was a pretty good day for the Swedes," he said. "It will be tough to match this weekend. Everything has been terrific since I arrived here Friday morning. The entire All-Star atmosphere was so relaxed out there, including the game."
Forsberg might be the hockey icon in Sweden. The four-time All-Star is the first hockey player to appear on a Swedish stamp. Besides notching his first goal, Forsberg had two assists.
"The Swedes scored the first four goals," he said. "It was fun to get out there and play six Swedish guys out there," Forsberg said. "With that many on the ice, someone is going to score."
If there was one Swede who did not have such a good day, it was Lidstrom. Despite his goal and two assists, the defender was on the ice or near the goal during most of the North America scores.
"It's tough being a defenseman out there," he said. "Normally, you would check your man in the boards or slide on the ice to block a goal. But it was fun to be out there and to finally score a goal in an All-Star Game."
Another defenseman from Sweden on the ice was Marcus Ragnarsson. He was one of the few players who did not get a point in the game. But he was just thrilled to be out there and hopes to be with his fellow Swedes at the Olympics.
"It will be great to see how our country fares against the others in the Olympics," he said. "This could be our strongest team in a long time."
Naslund thinks Sweden has a great chance for gold in 2002.
"We've got a bunch of talented guys," he said. "I think with Mats, Peter and Nicklas, this is a great nucleus to build an Olympic team around."