Mikael Samuelsson over came great odds to become one of hockey's most decorated players
Samuelsson almost quit hockey in his teens because he was too small. A late growth spurt helped, and he grew into a 6'2" and 210lb body as a man. Drafted by San Jose late in the 1998 draft, he struggled to find his way in the NHL, bouncing around with the Sharks, Rangers, Penguins and Panthers. He looked like a player who would never contribute to his potential.
That all changed in the 2005-06 season. He joined the Detroit Red Wings and, alongside fellow Swedes like Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, he exploded for a 23 goal season. He became a valuable special teams player, killing penalties and manning a point position on the power play. He was a good skater with a heavy shot and good head for the game. He wasn't a top line player but a versatile forward who could move up and down the lineup.
His strong play with the Red Wings ensured his spot on the Swedish Olympic team for the Torino Games in 2006. It was in Italy that he accomplished his childhood dream of winning the Olympic gold medal.
A few months later Samuelsson helped Sweden win the World Championships in Riga, Latvia.
Samuelsson completed hockey's greatest hat trick by becoming a member of the Triple Gold Club in 2008. In addition to the Olympic and World championships he became a Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings. He scored a couple of big goals in the Final vs. Pittsburgh, too.
Samuelsson compared the three championships in a Risto Parkarinen report for IIHF.com.
“Those three are really different things. When you win the Stanley Cup, you play with the same group of guys for a long time whereas in the Olympics, it was just a quick two-week sprint. And the Worlds just came and went,” he said.
He added winning the marathon known as the Stanley Cup was a much different feeling.
“The first thought that went through my head right after we had won the Cup just that it was over. It was an empty feeling, which is a little strange, but it was just that I was tired, both mentally and physically. Especially the mental press you feel in every game, and to be honest, in every shift, is hard."
Samuelsson went on to find more success in Vancouver, playing alongside the Sedin twins. Unfortunately Samuelsson and the Canucks lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Canucks fans can only wonder what if had Samuelsson been healthy that spring, but his injuries that would haunt him the rest of his career began that season.
He was also remembered in Vancouver for voicing his displeasure with being snubbed for the 2010 Swedish Olympic team. He was also not shy to share his comments on the labour relations issues during collective bargaining sessions.
Samuelsson went on to return showings in Florida and Detroit before returning to finish his career in Sweden.
In 699 NHL games in his 13 year career, Mikael Samuelsson scored 149 goals and 346 points.