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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 8:54 PM

SOCHI -- A nation watched Wednesday as Sweden embarked on its first Olympic tournament including NHL players without likely Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom on the team.

What they saw was the future of their country's elite talent on the blue line making its Olympic debut.

Ekman-Larsson

Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and the Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson make up Sweden's top pair on defense, but it is their offensive abilities that make them such a dangerous combination.

They proved it Wednesday, with Karlsson scoring twice and Ekman-Larsson getting two assists to help lead Sweden to a 4-2 win against the Czech Republic in the opening game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics for both teams.

"They're so skilled," said Daniel Alfredsson, Karlsson's former teammate with the Senators. "It's great to see them get off to this kind of start obviously. They're a pair to watch in this tournament. I totally believe [that]. Today was a great example. They made things happen. The same thing with their skating ability, they also played good defense."

That may be true, but the fact is that both Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson found themselves deep in the offensive zone on a regular basis. Sometimes they were even there at the same time.

"A couple of times Erik and I were the first guys up [the ice]," Ekman-Larsson admitted.

In the NHL this would be unheard of and would give most coaches heart attacks.

But for Sweden and its coach Par Marts, the free-wheeling forays into the offensive zone are not frowned upon. They are even encouraged.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 2:30 PM
Photo by Getty Images.

Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson notched two assists and was plus-2 in 18:13 of ice time to help Sweden defeat Czech Republic, 4-2, in the opening game for both countries at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

NOTE: Click here to read more about Ekman-Larsson's debut at the Olympics.

Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek played 19:01 and was plus-2 for Czech Republic.

Coyotes center Martin Hanzal, who also is on the Czech Republic roster, was scratched.

Click here to read more at NHL.com.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 1:17 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the next several days, Phoenix Coyotes Co-Owner George Gosbee will be in Sochi, Russia to take in the 2014 Winter Olympics, especially the men's hockey tournament, in which five Coyotes players will be participating. Each day or so, Gosbee will check in with flagship radio station Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and will post on his Twitter - follow him @Goz100. We'll also keep fans updated here in a Goz Blog from Sochi.

Day 3 (Wednesday, February 12):

"When I woke up 8am this morning, I felt like I was in Scottsdale. I went for a run in a t-shirt and shorts and I think I may have a sunburn now!"

I’m going to watch Shani Davis before Sweden-Czech Republic hockey."

The United States has the toughest bracket in the tournament. They have to come out and face Slovakia (my sleeper team) and then Russia…These first two are really important for the US."

AUDIO: Listen to Gosbee's report on 98.7 FM from Tuesday morning.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.12.2014 / 12:20 PM
SEE MORE PHOTOS


The Bolshoy Ice Dome, where the men's Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi will be played.
Czech Olympians and brothers Zbynek and Milan Michalek together under the Olympic flame.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 11:01 PM



CZECH REPUBLIC vs. SWEDEN

When: Wednesday, 10 a.m. MT (USA)

Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome

What's at stake: The Czech Republic and Sweden begin play in the men's hockey tournament at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with different expectations. The Czechs are a veteran group with two players (Petr Nedved and Jaromir Jagr) over the age of 40 and four (Marek Zidlicky, Michal Rozsival, Tomas Kaberle and Patrik Elias) 35 and up, and are motivated to avenge early exits from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the World Championship last year.

"Really, it's going to be very close," Elias told The Associated Press. "You can't predict you're going to beat any one team, so you go into the tournament thinking you can beat anyone."

Sweden returns loaded for a deep run after losing to Slovakia in the quarterfinals four years ago that left it without a medal for the third time in four Olympics. However, the last time the games were played on international ice (Turin, 2006) the Swedes won a gold medal. Expectations are ripe in '14, but key players Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen are missing due to injury.

Czech Republic: Experience is aplenty for the Czechs, especially on a blue line anchored by Zidlicky, Zbynek Michalek and Rozsival. Despite their advanced ages, Jagr leads the New Jersey Devils in scoring (17 goals, 32 assists, 49 points) and Nedved has 43 points in 44 games with the Liberec White Tigers in the Czech league (18 goals, 25 assists), and will be keys for a team that won bronze in 2006 on the larger ice.

Like most teams in the tournament, the Czechs will go as far as their goaltending allows. Likely starter Ondrej Pavelec has been inconsistent for the Winnipeg Jets, but won a gold for the Czechs at the 2010 World Championship and bronze the following year.

Sweden: A chic choice to win gold, Sweden is led by Henrik Lundqvist, who with another gold medal will stake his claim as the best goalie in the world. Four years ago, Lundqvist had a 1.34 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in three games. This season with the New York Rangers, he shook off early-season struggles to post five straight wins, seven of eight and 10 of 12 entering the Olympic break.

"You've been thinking about it for months, but now you can really start to mentally prepare for what is ahead," Lundqvist told BlueshirtsUnited.com prior to arriving in Sochi. "It's going to be a great challenge and a great experience. I really look forward to going over there and competing."

The Swedes are loaded on defense (Erik Karlsson, Niklas Kronwall, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alexander Edler and Jonathan Ericsson), but despite their share of firepower (Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Steen), time will tell if the absences of Henrik Sedin and Franzen will ultimately derail the Swedes' cause.

What's next: Group C play continues Friday for each team. The Czechs play Latavia, a team not expected to do much, but well-coached with Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan behind the bench and promising Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis in goal. Sweden faces Switzerland, which is capable of pulling off a big surprise or two with NHL players Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks) in goal, Roman Josi (Nashville Predators) and Mark Streit (Philadelphia Flyers) on defense, and Nino Niederreiter (Minnesota Wild) and Damian Brunner (Devils) up front.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 6:04 PM
Watch goalie Mike Smith talk about the honor of being selected for Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 1:40 PM

Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is playing for Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: This is Ekman-Larsson's first appearance at the Olympics.

OTHER INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE:

Photo by Norm Hall.

2011: Won a silver medal at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia…Recorded 1-3-4 and a plus-5 rating in seven games…Averaged 17:19 of ice time per game and took 24 shots…

2010: Won a bronze medal at both the IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan and IIHF World Championship in Germany…Registered 2-3-5 with 12 PIM and a plus-5 rating in six games at the WJC…Tied for the team lead in points by defensemen…Ranked tied for sixth in scoring among all defensemen in the tournament…Selected as one of Sweden’s top three players for the tournament by opposing coaches…Collected 1-2-3 and a plus-3 rating in nine games in the IIHF World Championship…Recorded 20:02 TOI in the bronze medal game vs. Germany…

2009: Represented Team Sweden at the IIHF U-18 World Championship in Minnesota, collecting 2-6-8 in six games and helping Sweden to a fifth place finish.

FUN FACT: Ekman-Larsson's maternal grandfather, Kenneth Ekman, played for Sweden at the 1972 Winter Olympics.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 1:30 PM

Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek is playing for Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: This is Michalek's second appearance at the Olympics. He played in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Czech Republic placed fifth that year.

OTHER INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE:

Photo by Norm Hall.
2013: Played in eight games and registered 3-1-4 with Czech Republic at the IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland.

2011:
Helped lead Czech Republic to a bronze medal at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia…Played in eight games recording one assist and six penalty minutes.

2010: Played in five games for Czech Republic at the Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C.

2008: Played for Czech Republic at the IIHF World Championship in Halifax and Quebec City, appearing in seven games.

2007: Played for Team Czech Republic at IIHF World Championship in Moscow…Registered an assist in seven games.

2006: Represented Czech Republic at the IIHF World Championship in Latvia, recording three goals and six penalty minutes in nine games to help team win the silver medal.

FUN FACT: Michalek's younger brother, Milan, also is on Czech Republic's team. They played together at the 2010 Olympics, too.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 12:58 PM

Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is playing for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: This is Smith's first appearance at the Olympics.

OTHER INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE:

Photo by Norm Hall.

2013: In four starts for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland, Smith registered a 1.65 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage.

FUN FACT: Smith's wife, Brigitte, is a former Olympic alpine skier for Canada (in 2006 and 2010). Her mother, Diane Pratte, also is a former Olympic alpine skier for Canada (1972).

HE SAID IT:

On seeing his Olympic sweater for the first time:

"You get goosebumps when you see that. You're like 'I am on the team.' It was nice to be named (to the team), but it was nice to put the jersey on for the first time... and really have the feeling that you're going to be an Olympian."

On his role with the team:

"You have to be prepared to play. That's the mind-set that I've had since I've been named to the team and that's the mind-set I'm going to continue to have... I'm going to do what I have to do to be a part of that team and help the team win. Whether it's playing in games or not, I think every player has a role on the team and if it's me encouraging the guys and being araound and letting them pepper me in practice then I'll do what I have to do to help the team win."

On Canada's chances to win the gold medal:

"The expectation is (to win) a gold medal. Anything else is a failure. That pressure is fun to be a part of. I think everyone expects us to win gold. It's gotten a lot harder over the years with how good everyone else has gotten and kind of caught up to Canada in a sense, but that makes it that much more fun.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.11.2014 / 12:13 PM

Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski is playing for Finland at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: This is Korpikoski's first appearance at the Olympics.

OTHER INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE:

Photo by Norm Hall.
2013: Represented Finland at the IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden and helsinki, Finland. Recorded 3-2-5 in eight games. Ranked tied for third on the team in goals and was fourth in points.

2010: Represented Finland at the IIHF World Championship in Germany…Appeared in seven games.

2006: Captured a bronze medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in British Columbia, recording 1-5-6 and four PIM in seven games…Ranked tied for fifth in assists among all players in the tournament.

2005: In five games at the IIHF World Junior Championship in North Dakota and Minnesota, he collected 2-0-2 and six PIM…2004: Skated in six games for Finland at the IIHF U-18 World Championship, notching 5-6-11 and a plus-7 rating…Ranked tied for first among all players in the tournament with 11 points.

FUN FACT: Korpikoski's parents and girlfriend are in Sochi to watch him compete.

Click "Full Story" below to see more.

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