Swedish Red Wings Success: A Decades-Old Tradition

Swedish Red Wings success

The Detroit Red Wings have not had a lot to celebrate in the last 6 years.  Their fortunes have soured, but soon might be much more Swede.  As recently as the start of the semifinals of the SHL playoffs, it was clear Detroit would have a Swedish champion among their prospects.  Swedish Red Wings success was back on the rise:

Red Wings Relied on Swedish Success for Decades

The sudden influx of talent from Sweden is not shocking to Red Wings fans.  The dependability of Swedish stars in Detroit goes back a long way.  Drafted in the third round in 1989, 53rd overall, was arguably the most notable of all: Nicklas Lidstrom.  Dubbed “The Perfect Human”, Lidstrom’s presence helped bolster a team coming out of one of its worst slumps in history.  Detroit was known for the better part of two decades as the Dead Wings until Steve Yzerman was drafted in 1983, but the early 90s is where the Wings started to fly again.

While Yzerman was the heart and fellow 1989 draftee Sergei Fedorov was the offensive punch, it was Lidstrom who shored up the defensive end of things.  By the 1996-97 season, another Swedish defender would help lock down opponents in the form of Anders Eriksson.  They also added the man from Pitea who is synonymous with net-front presence: Tomas Holmstrom.  By June of 1997, those three would help the Red Wings raise their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.  The trio would do it all over again the next season as Detroit won their second consecutive championship.

Even after the departure of Eriksson in the 1998-99 season, the new millennium offered new opportunities.  Enter Fredrik Olausson, who joined the Red Wings in search of a championship.  The Cup had eluded Olausson for 14 NHL seasons before coming to Detroit.  The new Swedish triumvirate fit in well on a stacked Red Wings squad that would boast no less than 10 future Hall of Famers on its way to a third Stanley Cup in six years.

Silver Success, Gold Glory: From Stanley to Turin

Before Detroit would again prove themselves best in the NHL, it was on the international stage where the Swedish Wings would showcase themselves.  At the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, team Sweden iced five Detroit Red Wings: Lidstrom and Holmstrom, as well as defenceman Niklas Kronwall and forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Zetterberg.  No individual club had more representation on the 2006 Olympic team than Detroit.  Team Sweden also had goaltender Stephan Liv, a Red Wings prospect, on their roster.  He never debuted in the NHL before tragically passing away in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash in 2011.  Sweden went on to defeat rival nation Finland in the gold medal game 3-2 to stand at the top of the podium for only the second time, their first time since 1994.  Nicklas Lidstrom was the team’s alternate captain, an honour that would help prepare him for what was to come.

The Red Wings’ Swedish Mafia: Stanley Cup Champions

Two years later, the Red Wings would be back on the hunt for the Stanley Cup.  With an astounding eight skaters, they were stocked as heavily with Swedish talent as they’d ever been.  The five gold medal winners from Turin in 2006 were accompanied by three new additions: blueliners Jonathan Ericsson and Andreas Lilja and power forward Johan Franzen.  The group became known among the fanbase as the Swedish Mafia, and at the head of the table was Lidstrom who was now captain of Detroit.

The majority of the 2008 playoffs certainly felt like the Wings were pulling all the strings, even getting away with a change in starting goalies two games in.  As head coach Mike Babcock said at the time, teams are usually fishing a few days later when that becomes necessary, but it was the push that got the winged wheel wagon rolling.  Across all four rounds, they would only surrender 6 losses, sweeping rival Colorado and beating Pittsburgh in the finals four games to two.  Henrik Zetterberg would earn the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP, while Nicklas Lidstrom became the first-ever European-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Can the Sequel Live Up to the Original?

There were no players from the 2008 championship team this season, let alone anyone from the Swedish Mafia.  The next generation could be on the way if the Red Wings’ prospects in the SHL playoffs are any indication.  The return may have started with the fourth pick in the 2020 NHL draft.  Could Lucas Raymond turn into the Gothenburg Godfather?  Instead of a Godfather, maybe Gothenburg provides the team with a Goliath in six-foot seven-inch Elmer Söderblom? Perhaps the new leader comes from the blueline as it did decades ago.  Maybe what Detroit needs is a Kungsbacka Kingpin like Simon Edvinsson, who may make his NHL debut next season.  The candidates are many, but regardless of who ends up the face of the group they will be surrounded by family, talented and dangerous.  Swedish Red Wings’ success was a way of life in Hockeytown.  Signs point to that success returning soon.

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