2006-03-03 / Sports

NY Hockey Report: Lundqvist Shines

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

Henrik Lundqvist throws his pads to the air in celebration for Team Sweden winning the gold medal against Finland. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Henrik Lundqvist throws his pads to the air in celebration for Team Sweden winning the gold medal against Finland. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images) NEW YORK – It’s not many times a player goes from obscure rookie, to folk hero, and then to full blown national hero in less than five months.

But it happened to Henrik Lundqvist, whose star is now as bright as the gold medal he wore on Tuesday before the Rangers’ annual Casino-Night at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s starting to [sink in],” Lundqvist said as he sat down with the print reporters before the event. “When I was on the flight from Stockholm, I started to realize what we did. But it was strange during the tournament. I didn’t realize how big the Olympics are.”

No one can blame the Rangers goaltender since it’s been a whirlwind few days for the 23 year-old. After winning the tournament on Sunday, Team Sweden took off for Stockholm where there was a celebration held in the capital.

After celebrating Monday, Lundqvist, along with teammate Ville Nieminen, who was in Finland celebrating the silver medal, and the Flyers’ Peter Forsberg took SAS flight 103 back to the U.S., which landed Tuesday afternoon.

The cool Swede, as always took it in stride.

“It wasn’t tough, no,” he said. “When we went back home, we had a great day. We arrived in Stockholm in the afternoon and a nice dinner at night and nice party. At first we were not suppose to go to Stockholm, but after the game, we skated up to the coach and told him to5 get it done.”

It was worth it for Lundqvist. Sweden was not considered the best team in the Olympics, but one of the better ones and came together as the tournament was coming to a close.

“It was a great tournament from the standpoint with pretty high expectations,” he said. “I think when the playoffs started, we played pretty smart. I think we played our best in the final.”

With eight games in 11 days, which teammate Jaromir Jagr called too much, Lundqvist doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on the tournament.

“I am so relaxed right now,” he smiled. “I am excited to be back in New York. It feels great to be back with all the guys. We had a great year so far and hopefully we will have a better spring.”

Now it’s back to business. Lundqvist wasn’t told by Renney he wouldn’t be starting against the Philadelphia Flyers as of Tuesday night, but will be in goal for many of the games down the stretch.

“I am already excited to be here,” he said. “I felt like that yesterday. I now have to show how good we are. I don’t think it would be a problem. It’s fun so far; I like the organization, the team and the [NHL] game. I love to play this game here, it more action and more fun.” So with 24 games left, Lundqvist does feel this Rangers team can surprise in the playoffs.

“It tough to go all the way of course, but we have a good team,” the goalie thought. “Of course we have a good chance to go all the way, but we need to perform our best. And we need a little bit of luck too.”

After winning the Swedish Elite League Championship last season, Lundqvist now has the experience to help lead the Rangers in the quest for the Stanley Cup.

“The last three or four years were pretty good for me, I experience a lot of good things,” he said. “But it’s different winning a championship. You work the whole year with the guys and it’s just different.”

But with the way this magical year is going for him, anything can happen for Lundqvist.

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