Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Sweden struggles to field team

AP , RIGA, LATVIA

Three months after winning the Olympic gold medal at the Turin Games, Sweden can barely manage to get a team together to play at the World Hockey Championship.

Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg turned down invitations, and so did goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

They were not alone.

Fifteen players with National Hockey League teams declined to accept Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson's offer to play in Latvia.

"There will be a day when they'll regret their decisions," said Mats Naslund, a former Montreal Canadiens player who is Sweden's general manager.

For a while this week it looked like Sweden would head to Riga for the weekend opener without a single NHL player for the first time since the 1995 worlds in Stockholm, when Finland won its first and only world title by beating the hosts.

But Gustafsson, a former NHL player, finally got some good news: defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who also played on the Olympic gold-medal winning team, and forward Johan Franzen accepted invitations after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I never hesitated," Kronwall said. "I was injured for four months and my season has hardly started ... I don't want it to end like this. It was such a tough loss against Edmonton."

Henrik Zetterberg, another Olympic champion on the Red Wings, might join his Detroit teammates. He said he would notify Gustafsson later this week after examining his sore back.

Without so many key NHL players and only five returning from its Olympic roster, Sweden is unlikely to challenge for another gold at the worlds.

"I would never turn down a chance to play on the national team," said Russia's Alexander Ovechkin, one of the top rookies in the NHL with the Washington Capitals this season who finished third on the regular-season scoring list.

"All players have the right to make their own decisions, but for me it's an honor to represent my country in the world championship."

Winning the European Hockey Tour final over Sweden in Stockholm earlier this week was a confidence booster for Russia, which has not won the worlds since 1993.

"We'll have a young and promising team in Riga," Ovechkin said. "I can promise that we'll surprise a lot of people. We've got a great team."

Canada, like Russia, will be looking for revenge at the worlds after a disappointing showing at the Olympics.

Canada has a roster that includes forward Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Detroit forward Jason Williams was a late addition to Canada's team.

"Jason is leaving tomorrow and should be in the lineup Friday," Canada GM Ken Holland said.

Holland didn't have far to go to ask Williams, a member of Holland's Red Wings team that was upset by Edmonton.

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