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Forsberg defies age and injury to lead Sweden

Published: 16 Feb 2010 09:43 GMT+01:00
Updated: 16 Feb 2010 09:43 GMT+01:00

Forsberg's status as returning veteran is shared at the Vancouver Winter Olympics ice-hockey tournament with Finland's Teemu Selanne.

Both players are battling injuries as the ice hockey event opens, and both hope to help put their teams back into the finals as they were in 2006.

Forsberg, a 36-year-old former National Hockey League star now playing for Sweden's Modo, has a nagging right foot injury but is confident of being passed fit to take the ice for the Swedes.

"I don't think I will ever be 100 percent but I feel good right now," said Forsberg, who helped Sweden claim the 2006 title and scored a shootout gold medal-wining goal to beat Canada in the 1994 final.

Selanne, who plays for the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, helped the Finns to silver in Turin and bronze in 1998. He's counting on Finland being underestimated.

"That's our strength for sure," Selanne said. "You don't hear anybody saying we have a chance but almost all our guys come from the NHL too and we play against these guys on a daily basis. It's one game and you never know."

Selanne, 39, suffered a broken jaw when struck by a deflected puck last month and will wear a protective jaw guard in his fifth Olympics. Giving Selanne a gold medal Olympic sendoff is in the minds of Finnish players.

"Of course that's a little part of the thinking process," Finnish forward Niko Kapanen said.

A host of former NHL "oldies but goodies" from the Russian league will be matched against today's NHL talent at the Olympics, including Russian Sergei Fedorov, 40; Czech star Jaromir Jagr, 38; and Slovakia's Ziggy Palffy and Jozef Stumpel, each 37.

Jagr has been teasing Forsberg in recent days as the ice-hockey face off nears, saying, "Even when he played in Sweden he would play only two games, be injured for three," and adding, "You can't play on a high level if you don't practice."

Forsberg countered with, "It depends on the kind of injury you have. I have played with my injury for six years."

Swedish coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson is fine with Forsberg as he is.

"I'm not worried about it. He's coming along," Gustafsson said. "It's not where he wants it to be. Health-wise he is okay but he has got to get that feeling back."

What Forsberg brings to Sweden is unmatchable inspiration and spirit.

"His competitive play is something else," Gustafsson said. "He knows when and how to get involved. He will pay the price all the time and has a winning attitude. He forces the younger guys to come out and play hard.

"He can turn the game around easily by himself. He can step in and change the picture pretty fast. He knows what to do to win. That's a big asset."

Forsberg hands Canada and Russia the favourites tag but warns that one-game knockout rounds leave such teams more vulnerable to inspired underdogs.

"Canada and Russia, they have unbelievable rosters," Forsberg said. "But it's going to be a lot harder than people think."

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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