Red Wings against Red Wings in Sochi
DETROIT — The Red Wings have 10 players, and a coach and general manager in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Just a few days ago, they were all on the same team.
Now it’s all about their respective countries.
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, will suit up for his fifth Olympic Games for Team Sweden, the most on the Wings.
The experience never gets old.
"You know, it’s the best players in the world in a short tournament," Alfredsson said before leaving for Sochi. "It’s probably the highest level of hockey that you can get, and then playing for your country is always special and an honoring feeling.
"Beside from our own sport, it’s just the whole atmosphere around the village that I find it being one of the best parts about it — walking around, seeing all the different athletes, and meeting other people in the dining area or sharing different stories. It’s just incredibly cool."
The other Olympic veterans include Henrik Zetterberg, the captain of Team Sweden who is playing in his fourth Olympics, as is fellow Euro Twin Pavel Datsyuk, the captain of Team Russia.
"It’s the fourth time in a row now, but this one is going to be a little special, I think," Zetterberg said. "It could be my last. We have a good team, got some good young players coming in that play well.
"We’re one of the countries that have a chance to go all the way, and it’s going to be a great hockey tournament."
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall is playing in his third Olympics and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson his second for Team Sweden.
Gustavsson is amazed by Alfredsson, who is playing in his final Olympics.
"To do it this many times, I don’t know if it will ever happen in Swedish history," Gustavsson said. "That means you have to be a top, top, elite player for more than 20 years.
"But he is and that’s pretty tough to do. I think it’s really cool, and I think for Alfie to finish off with the international team this way, hopefully with a gold, that would be awesome."
The other five Wings Olympians are first-timers.
Jonathan Ericsson and Gustav Nyquist will also play for Team Sweden.
For Ericsson, it’s a chance to play with his brother, Jimmie, a forward and the only non-NHL player on the team.
Ericsson talked to his parents about the possible security risk in Sochi but they were undeterred.
"I just told them, if they don’t want to go, I understand," Ericsson said. "It’s totally up to you if you guys feel secure enough. But they don’t want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
For Nyquist, it’s a little bittersweet because he replaced a Red Wings teammate, Johan Franzen, who continues to suffer from concussion symptons and had to drop out.
Nyquist was just 16 when Sweden won the gold medal.
"Huge honor to be representing your country in the Olympics," he said. "It’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m real excited to join so many guys in the locker room.
"It’s going to be a good time, something I’ll remember forever."
Jimmy Howard will represent Team USA.
Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will play for Team Slovakia.
"I’ve been excited since I got selected," Jurco said. "I try to make my family and friends proud, so it’s kind of playing for all those people in my life.
"That’s why it’s different. That’s what I like about it."
Those three are guaranteed to play each other in the preliminary round because they’re all in Group A with Team Russia.
"It is not happening that often," Tatar said. "I remember I played (in worlds) against Pav, Jimmy and Abby (Justin Abdelkader), but I wasn’t here full time, so I didn’t take it like this — like I’m taking it now.
"Now I’m with guys every day, and it’s a big competition, too, so everybody wants to win."
Although they didn’t do much trash talking before leaving, Howard knows what to expect from Tatar, Jurco and Datsyuk.
"They’re pretty slick with the puck," Howard said. "Tats is tenacious out there. He’s not the biggest guy by any means out there, but he finds a way.
"He’s slippery out there. We know what Pavel can do. It’s no surprise."
Tatar was asked about the possibility of Datsyuk trying to trick him to get him to pass the puck.
"That’s actually not a bad idea," Tatar said. "I might do that. He’s so good, he won’t react on the voice. Maybe I would."
Tatar said his mom and two brothers will be in Sochi with him.
Alfredsson gave the newbies some advice before leaving.
"Enjoy it, take it all in, and make sure you try to get around and meet other people," he said. "I think, especially for us, we’re high-paid athletes compared to other people who grind for two, three years to prepare for this — some people even have an extra job — and they put everything they have in, and hearing those kinds of stories are neat."
Wings coach Mike Babcock led Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. General manager Ken Holland helped Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman select the team once again.
"(Russia is) under all the pressure, but when you’re coaching Canada, they’re expecting you to win," Babcock said. "That’s real straightforward.
"We’re going to go there, be businesslike, prepare and get better each and every day. That’s what we ask our players, our coaches and management staff. We expect to give ourselves a chance to have success as a country.
"We keep saying it’s our game, but in order to call it our game you have to win. We did last time and know we have another opportunity."
The Wings who aren’t Olympians said they’ll be watching and rooting.
"I’ll be cheering for certain guys to do well — everybody on our team, obviously, and a few buddies like (Team USA’s Ryan) McDonagh and (Derek) Stepan," said defenseman Brendan Smith, a proud Canadian. "I think it’s just fun to see those guys play over there on a big stage. But for sure I’ll be cheering for Canada."
When the Wings reconvene after the Olympics, it’ll be interesting to see who has bragging rights in the dressing room.
Team Slovakia won’t see Team Sweden unless they advance past the preliminary round.
"If I would be able to beat them, it would be such a great feeling," Tatar said. "I don’t know if I would laugh. Obviously, you would feel sorry for our guys if they lost. But at the same time, you compete against those guys, so we want to win the game.
"Here in the locker room, they’d probably be reminded a lot."