Marcus Johansson was in the Capitals locker room Thursday night, relishing a comeback victory over the Winnipeg Jets in which he set up two goals by Troy Brouwer, when he received the news that he would be an injury replacement for Henrik Sedin on the Swedish Olympic hockey team.
“It’s a great feeling,” Johansson said Friday. “It’s a dream come true. Playing for your country is pretty awesome and I’m really excited.”
Johansson quickly phoned his parents, but with little preparation time, he doesn’t think they’ll be able to make the arrangements necessary to see him play in Sochi, Russia.
“Everything happened so quick,” Johansson said. “I don’t even know how the travel will work. I have a lot to figure out before I leave. But we still have a game tomorrow and we have to be ready for that.”
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At 23, Johansson will be making his first Olympic appearance. He won a silver medal with Sweden in the 2009 World Junior Championships and a captained the Swedes to bronze medal in 2010.
Johansson has had a strong but less than spectacular fourth season with the Capitals. He has seven goals and 29 assists, putting him on pace for 10 goals and a career-high 41 assists and 51 points. He admitted his disappointment at being passed over when the Swedish Olympic team announced its roster last month.
“I’m sure he was disappointed he didn’t make it at first,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who will be making his second Olympic appearance. “But he was told he was an extra player in case someone got hurt and I’m happy for him.”
The Swedes are considered among the favorites to medal in the Olympic tournament, which begins on Wednesday and concludes on Feb. 23. Capitals coach Adam Oates said he hopes Johansson walks away from the tournament with some of the wisdom passed down from veteran players like Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Lundqvist.
“Obviously, it’s a great experience for him, a huge honor,” Oates said. “You hope that for a young guy like him this will take him to another level as a player, to realize he was really close, he was on the bubble, and he gets a chance to go to the Olympics. It shows how the hockey world regards you.”
Oates said he hopes Johansson’s Olympic experience transcends into a more prolific player for the Capitals in the final23 games of the regular season.
“I don’t know what else could motivate you,” Oates said. “You’re getting an opportunity to go play with the best in the whole world for 10 days. You get to play with some of your peers, the guys you look up to, and it takes you to another level.”
The Swedes have quite a few players on their roster coming off injuries, but Johansson says he’s going to Sochi to bring back gold.
“From our goalie to our fourth line, every player is a really good hockey player,” he said. “We’re a great team all-around. I don’t think there are any weaknesses; that’s our strength.”
Holtby earns a start: Oates said Holtby’s 34-save performance on Thursday night was enough to earn him a start against the Devils on Saturday night at Verizon Center [8 p.m., CSN]. … Right wing Joel Ward did not participate in Friday’s practice because of family/personal reasons. … After Saturday’s game center Casey Wellman and defensemen Julien Brouillette and Parick Wey will be sent to the AHL Hershey Bears. Under CBA rules, rookie defenseman Connor Carrick cannot be returned to the Bears because he has played 16 of the Capitals’ 20 games leading into the Olympic break. Carrick will receive NHL pay during the break, which he said he is welcoming because he’s been playing hockey since June. … Since players are not permitted to use team facilities until Feb. 19, defenseman Jack Hillen [broken leg] said he will return home to Minnesota for workouts and skating in his attempt to return from a broken leg. He said he hopes to participate in full practices when the Caps return to Kettler and would like to return to NHL action after the break if his body responds.