QUEBEC – No general manager at the IIHF World Hockey Championship has had as much bad luck as Sweden’s Mats Naslund.
The former Montreal Canadiens star watched in disbelief as one-by-one, Sweden’s star players began to fall by the wayside leading up to the tournament.
First, it was Mats Sundin’s groin. Then it was Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson’s knee. When it was all said and done, more than 20 players declined an invitation to the tournament.
Naslund, one of the architects of the 2006 gold medal-winning Swedish entry at the Winter Olympics, has had to make due, combining Swedish league veterans with a number of fringe NHLers and Calder Trophy-candidate Nicklas Backstrom.
“We’ve been a contender for the world championship every year since the early 60s,” Naslund said. “If we get our best team we have a chance to compete with the best. This year, unfortunately, we had no luck with the NHL players.
“So we’re looking forward to the quarter-finals and we’ll go from there.”
Naslund says Sweden is crossing their fingers for Vezina Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist, whose New York Rangers were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in NHL playoff action Sunday.
“We’re especially hoping for Lundqvist, who played an excellent game (Sunday) and would be a great boost for our team.”
Swedish starter Mikael Tellqvist surrendered five goals in a 6-5 win over Belarus on Saturday.
Also absent from Quebec City is 23-year-old Swedish phenom Fabian Brunnstrom, who incidentally spent time over the weekend just a short distance away in Montreal meeting with Canadiens brass.
Brunnstrom, an offensively gifted six-foot-one forward, is one of the most sought after unrestricted free agents in the National Hockey League.
As much as half the league has expressed some interest in signing him and Brunnstrom is currently listening to offers.
“He’s a late-bloomer, he came to the Swedish Elite League this year and had a great season until about Christmas,” Naslund said.
Naslund shrugged his shoulders when asked if the hype surrounding Brunnstrom was warranted. While Naslund said he recommends Brunnstrom as a player and a person, he doubts the youngster will be able to crack an NHL lineup next season.
“He’s got a good future, I think he can be a good player,” Naslund said.
In his first season in the Swedish Elite League, Brunnstrom’s play tailed off in the new year, enough that Brunnstrom didn’t make the team in Quebec City.
“The way he played after Christmas, he wasn’t good enough to make the team. The way he played before Christmas, he would have made the team easily.”
Naslund calls Brunnstrom a typical Swedish player, not very physical but “takes the heat when he gets scoring chances, but he’s not running after people on the ice.”
Naslund, who played three years in Sweden before heading to Montreal, believes there are benefits to staying home and would have liked to see Brunnstrom play in Sweden a few more seasons before making the jump.
“I think they (players) develop better,” Naslund said. “I think they should play in at least one world championship before they sign in the NHL.
“It’s a great experience to play in the Swedish league, and all the international games we have during the year rather than playing on a farm team (in North America).”
Naslund, who still follows the Canadiens closely, doesn’t anticipate ever returning to work in North America. In addition to his role with Swedish hockey, he keeps busy working as a carpenter building houses.
“I have a great life so I certainly don’t want the pressure of being a general manager in the NHL team, my life is too good to put myself in that spot.”