Five Blackhawks join Teams Sweden, Slovakia

Five Blackhawks join Teams Sweden, Slovakia
January 7, 2014, 9:00 am
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Niklas Hjalmarsson said earlier this season that the chance to make Team Sweden was extra motivation entering 2013-14.

The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman has steadily improved during his career here, and he’s currently putting up great offensive numbers to go with his strong play on the other side of the puck. And on Tuesday, his country recognized and rewarded him for that with a call.

Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya were named to Team Sweden, three of 10 Blackhawks who got Olympic calls on Tuesday. It will be the first Olympic trips for Hjalmarsson and Kruger; Oduya was part of Team Sweden in 2010 in Vancouver. Hjalmarsson had a hint he could join the team, but was obviously happy to know for sure.

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“I kind of knew before but I got really happy when the coach told me I was going to be a part of the team,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been having in the back of my head (since) before the season, knowing, obviously, it’s an Olympic year. It was one of my goals to make it.”

Hjalmarsson and Oduya have formed a great defensive duo for the Blackhawks these past two seasons. Whether or not they pair together in Sochi is unclear, but having that familiarity doesn’t hurt.

Kruger, meanwhile, read on the internet that he had made the team. The Blackhawks center has crafted a well-rounded game these past two seasons, adding penalty killing to his repertoire and drastically improving his faceoff percentage. Now he’ll bring those attributes to Team Sweden.

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“Everyone going there is going to do everything they can to help the team win, and so will I. I don’t know how it’ll turn out with lines but it’ll be exciting to go over there,” he said. “You’re always hoping you’re going to get picked; I had some hopes. And it was great seeing my name there. It’s a good day.”

TRY, TRY AGAIN

Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa will be part of a Slovakian squad that finished fourth in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It will be Hossa’s fourth Olympics, Handzus’ third. Handzus said the 2010 conclusion was “heartbreaking,” but it’s motivation entering this campaign.

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“We were up in the bronze medal game 3-1 after the second (period) and we lost 5-3. It would have been cool to medal, especially for a small country (like) Slovakia,” Handzus said. “It still hurts a little bit but it was four years ago. It's going to be a different tournament, a different team.”

A VETERAN FIRST

Michal Rozsival found out from his wife and kids that he made the Czech Republic’s Olympic squad, as they were watching the press conference. Didn’t matter; getting that first Olympic call was a thrill for the veteran defenseman.

“Obviously I’m really happy,” he said. “I’ve never been part of anything like that and I’m really looking forward to representing my country in these Olympics.”

NO REST? NO PROBLEM

The Blackhawks have 10 players going to the Olympics. The concern will be how the Winter Games affects them, especially some of the veterans with past injuries like Handzus and Hossa, when they return for the Blackhawks’ potential playoff push. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t overly worried.

“Those guys are pretty smart guys. I think they take care of themselves. It’s something they’ve done throughout their careers and I think they’re going to love to get the opportunity to go,” he said. “I’m sure rest is something that -- not just with those guys 0-- we’ve got to worry about when they come back. All those guys, we’ll try to keep an eye on them.”