DETROIT – Many of the players in the Wings’ locker room aren’t used to having to answer this question at this point of the postseason … “Would you be willing to represent your country at this year’s World Championships.”
Nine will do so this year, including Swedes Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
“We’ve had an early exit two years in a row; haven’t finished the season on a good note in a while,” Franzen said. “Feels like a good opportunity to do that — go over there — they have a good team.”
After being eliminated by San Jose in the second round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Detroit fell in five games this year in the first round to Nashville.
“It is bittersweet,” Zetterberg said. “You would rather have had a practice here and focus on Round Two (of the playoffs). But we’re not and so when an opportunity came to go over and play for your country, it’s an honor and I’m looking forward to it.”
The tournament begins Friday in Helsinki (Finland) and Stockholm (Sweden).
Zetterberg last played in Sweden six years ago.
“It’s going to be fun,” Zetterberg said. “It’s not often a chance like this comes around. The way everything ended here, I want to keep playing hockey and have a nice ending to the season.”
Sweden opens the tournament on Friday against Norway.
Kronwall doesn’t expect the play to be anything like playing in the NHL.
“I try not to compare the two because they are so different,” Kronwall said. “But when you go to play for your country everything is based on two weeks and a hot goaltender and being able to play strong for two weeks. Here it’s obviously a grind over a long season that way, but it’s always a lot of big pride to be a part of something like that.”
This will be Kronwall’s first time he’ll represent his country on this stage.
“There are a lot of intriguing things about going home, but my brother (Staffan) 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.”
His brother did make the final roster.
“I wasn’t planning on being done for the season at this time of year,” Ericsson said. “Once I got clearance from Detroit I didn’t really hesitate. I’d rather still be playing in the playoffs. I’m kind of focused and still feel the urge of playing.
“It’s a little bit more special that it’s in the home country,” Ericsson added. “I’m going home anyway and it’s always an honor to play for the national team. It’s a chance to get redemption for how we ended the season and try to finish it off in a better way.”
Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader will play for the United States.
“Any time you can play for your country, represent your country it’s a big honor and I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Abdelkader, who left Saturday for the tournament. “Having a teammate with you should be exciting so we can share the experience together.”
Abdelkader played for the United States in the 2006 World Junior Championships, which was also held in Sweden.
“A lot of guys are going down, (but) I don’t like ’em going in the fact that we should be playing here,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You shouldn’t have to travel to another country to play hockey. It’s not something that I’d like to be standard for our team. Yet, I think it’s really good.”
The other Wings taking part are Pavel Datsyuk (Russia), Valtteri Filppula (Finland), Tomas Tatar (Slovakia).
“Fil’s going to get a really good opportunity and he’s had a great year,” Babcock said. “Confidence-wise I think it’s a great thing for him, along with Ericsson, (Jakub) Kindl, Howie and Abby. I think for Franzen, Zetterberg, for Datsyuk — who’ve already played in the Olympics and have been what they’ve been, I don’t know if it’s as much of a confidence-builder, but for the Swedes and the Fins, they’re playing right in their own country. So, that makes it real special.”
However, Kindl is no longer listed on the Czech Republic roster that’s posted on the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championships website.