International Ice Hockey Federation

Nilsson now an elder

Nilsson now an elder

Robert hopes to one-up amazing dad

Published 15.08.2018 16:15 GMT+11 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Nilsson now an elder
Robert Nilsson last time played at a big tournament for Sweden at the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHOF-IIHF Images
In the mid-1980s, when Wayne Gretzky said that Kent Nilsson was the most talented hockey player in the world, people listened.

The Swedish forward they called “Magic Man” played for the Calgary Flames, Gretzky’s arch-rivals in Alberta. During Kent’s time with the Flames, he and his wife had a baby. They named him Robert, and today the 32-year-old is fighting for a place on Tre Kronor at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. Despite his great career, Kent never played at the Olympics.

Robert Nilsson was the oldest player on the Sweden roster at the Karjala Tournament in Helsinki, earning one assist in three games (two wins and a loss). It was a good tournament for him and the team.

“It was alright here,” Nilsson summarized after his team’s final game, a 3-1 loss to home team Finland. “I have a lot of things I can improve on, I think, handling the puck and making some passes. I think I can play a lot better.”

Nilsson has been all over the hockey map in his 15 years of pro hockey. He developed primarily in Leksand and was drafted 15th overall by the New York Islanders in 2003. He made his NHL debut two years later, but after five years with the Isles and Edmonton Oilers he returned to Europe, where he has been ever since. He played three years in the KHL and is now in his fifth season with the ZSC Lions Zurich in Switzerland, the country he started to play hockey when his father was with EHC Kloten.

As a teen, he played for Sweden five times, twice at the U18 (2001, 2002) and three times at the World Juniors (2003, 2004, 2005). He later played at the 2008 and 2011 senior World Championships, but he has never skated in the five-ring circus.

“As soon as we found out that no NHL players were going,” he said, “I felt this was an opportunity to play. I’ve never played at the Olympics, and it would be an incredible tournament to play in.”

Like any hockey-loving kid, let alone the son of a superstar, Robert followed Olympic hockey from a young age.

“Back when I was a kid,” he recalled, “it was around 1994, when we won gold. That’s when Forsberg and Naslund and Loob were playing. That was really cool. After that, NHL players could play, and that was exciting as well, seeing all of the best players in the world playing against each other. It’s only once every four years, so it’s a special feeling if you do get to go.”

In the old days, Europeans thought only of the Olympics and World Championship while Canadians thought only of the Stanley Cup. Those lines have long been blurred, though.

“It’s still like that,” Nilsson offered, “but nowadays the Stanley Cup is also huge, especially now that we have about 90 Swedes playing in the NHL. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago. That part has changed, but not playing for the national team. It’s mainly that the Stanley Cup has also become big. Both are incredibly hard to win.”

With the Karjala Tournament ending today, Nilsson’s chances to impress are limited to league play until the Olympic team is named. He won’t talk about his chances, but he will do his best.

“I don’t know how it looks,” he suggested. “We’ll see in the next month. It’s all up to the coaches. We have a lot of skilled, good players. I might have a chance, but it’s not up to me. I have to play my game. I have to produce chances for my linemates, score some goals, play well defensively, so they feel comfortable putting me out there.”


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