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19 Stories: International man

Thursday, 25.11.2010 / 12:00 PM / Features - 40th Anniversary
By Derek Jory
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19 Stories: International man

Be there, done that.

As far as Markus Naslund's international hockey resume goes, he did it all.

Naslund first hit the international scene at the tender age of 17, playing for Team Sweden at the 1989 Four Nations Tournament in Russia. A year later and the 5-foot-11,195-pound forward was front and centre for his country at the U18 European Junior Championship.

In 1991, again representing Sweden at the U18 European Junior Championship, Naslund put on a show with 14 goals and two assists in just six games; Naslund’s time playing for Modo in the J20 SuperElit and Swedish Elite League in his hometown of Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, was turning him into a top-notch goal scorer.

That was reinforced during the 1992 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Kaufbeuren, Germany, where Naslund helped Sweden to a 5-1-1 record and a silver medal finish. Naslund’s reputation as an international sensation was cemented a year later at the 1993 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, in Sweden, when he not only helped tre kronor to a second consecutive silver medal finish, but he set a record for most goals scored in a single tournament with 13 (Naslund’s 24 points was second in tournament scoring behind Peter Forsberg's record of 31).

The hockey decision makers in Sweden took notice of Naslund’s fine play and that same year he was a part of Team Sweden at the World Ice Hockey Championships. He had a goal and an assist in eight games.

At 20-years-old Naslund had already become a prominent part of Modo’s offence and reached international stardom; despite not being a household name in North America and not becoming one until coming to the Vancouver Canucks in the mid-1990s, Naslund was all the rage in Sweden.

“This sounds maybe strange, but I remember him when he was really young, he stood out so much, they were so good and Markus was, in my mind, their best guy,” said fellow Swede Mikael Samuelsson.

“Peter Forsberg was right up there too, those two were amazing to watch. They were with the national team in Sweden and played junior still and they had a big impact in the national team, so that says it all. It’s not a lot of guys who have done that or who will do that in the future either.”

As Naslund’s NHL stats began to climb, so too did the importance of his appearances for Team Sweden. By 1996, Naslund had three NHL seasons under his belt and was looking to add more World Championship and World Cup of Hockey experience, but was limited to just a game in each tournament with the yellow, blue and white knocked out early in both instances.

It wasn’t until three years later in 1999 that Naslund had a chance to compete in another World Championship and in 10 games he made the most of it collecting 10 points as Sweden placed third.

By the turn of the millennium in 2000, Naslund was in the midst of back-to-back 60-plus point seasons with the Canucks and on the verge of his most successful four years in Vancouver, including 104 points and a Lester B. Pearson award in 2002-03. Before the pinnacle of his NHL career, Naslund reached the summit of international play competing for Sweden at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

Naslund’s Olympic experience, while overwhelming and stupendous, ended with one of the biggest gaffs in the history of Olympic hockey when Belarus’ Vladimir Kopat scored on a 70-foot shot that hit Swedish netminder Tommy Salo’s head before bouncing in for the game-winner with 2:24 remaining in the third period in their quarterfinal matchup.

"It's a devastating loss for us and our country," Naslund said at the time.

It was also a devastating way for Naslund to end his only Olympic experience as he chose not to represent Sweden at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

Naslund’s time on the international stage ended after just two more tournaments: the 2002 World Championships and 2004 World Cup of Hockey. All in all, he finished with 71 points (45-26-71) in 57 junior and senior international games.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Naslund’s international play, at least to Samuelsson, is that the two never represented their country at the same time, despite being only three years apart.

“We could have in the Olympics in ’06, but you’ve got to ask him why he didn’t play, I don’t know,” said Samuelsson. “Then I didn’t play national team until I was 29 and by that time he wasn’t on the national team anymore, so our paths never crossed, we never played for the same team.”

On paper, the pair would have complimented each other well.

“Absolutely. I don’t know how anyone could have stopped us. I wish I had come to Vancouver a couple of years earlier,” grinned Samuelsson.