WILMINGTON (CBS) — We all know about the risks that come with NHL skaters playing in the Olympics.
Injury and extra ice time could make it difficult for some of the league’s best players to finish the season strong.
But there could also be a benefit to NHL teams, including the Bruins, as each nation tries to make up a roster for competing in Sochi, Russia next February. With general managers and coaches from the national teams watching, there’s extra incentive for players to not take nights off and play their best if they want to represent their countries and go for the gold.
Recently, Peter Popovic of the Team Sweden coaching staff checked in at TD Garden to watch Boston forward Loui Eriksson, who was a member of his homeland’s entry in the 2010 Games in Vancouver. After the game, Eriksson, who said he knew Popovic would be watching the Bruins’ game with Colorado in person, and Popovic had a brief chat outside the Bruins’ dressing room.
Despite his wide array of international experience with Team Sweden, including his run in Vancouver, Eriksson isn’t making definitive plans to be in Sochi until he’s earned a spot on the team.
“Yeah, you always want to show them. It’s good for them to see all the players around the league,” Eriksson said. “Because we play differently back home. So it’s really good for him to come over and see.”
“No, I want to earn it too. I want to play good and show them I’m in a good shape to go there.”
Any worries that Eriksson would fail to produce and create a double whammy of hurting the Bruins and leaving Team Sweden’s brass with a difficult decision of adding him to the team were somewhat allayed Saturday when Eriksson scored his first goal with the Bruins in the win in Columbus. As he went through the season’s first three games without a goal, Eriksson said he was getting comfortable with his new team and that it would be a matter of time before he started contributing. Although the Bruins’ sporadic early-season schedule made it seem like forever before that first goal, he scored it in the Bruins’ fourth game (it took 10 days to play those four games), which would hardly qualify as a slump.
Eriksson’s main goal is keeping the Bruins near the top of the NHL and making people forget about any players that might have departed this season. But he’s also looking forward to going for the gold in Sochi. He had to just watch the highlights in 2006 when Sweden won the gold because he was a prospect with Dallas’ Iowa AHL affiliate. Last spring, while the Bruins were in the midst of their run to the Stanley Cup finals and the Stars were done for the season, Eriksson got to play in his third World Championship, and this time added gold to his collection that already included a silver and a bronze medal. Championships of any kind enrich a player’s career and make them want to win more.
Of course, regardless of what happens in Sochi, Eriksson hopes that the Olympics will be his only chance to play for a medal. There’s a bigger prize than a world championship medal he wants to play for in 2014. And if he lives up to expectations with the Bruins, Eriksson might get his best chance at that prize.
“Exactly,” Eriksson replied when asked about hoping to not have to defend that world championship victory, “now I want to be going for the big Cup.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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