COLOGNE, Germany — The smile on Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger’s face was nearly as wide as the gold medal dangling from his neck.
After helping Sweden defeat Canada 2-1 in a shootout to capture gold at the 2017 IIHF World Championship on Sunday, the two-time Stanley Cup winner let out a relieved sigh.
“I’ve played for two [golds] in the past,” said Kruger, who has represented Sweden in the world championship, world junior championship, 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey. “We lost one final [in 2011] and lost the Olympics, too, in the final, so I’ve never won. It feels like the curse is broken.”
Kruger had three assists in this tournament while playing the same roles he plays for the Hawks. He centered the fourth line, was part of Sweden’s top penalty-killing unit and nearly scored Sweden’s lone goal in regulation against Canada.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman scored that goal shorthanded to tie it 1-1 with 11 seconds left in the second period, but the puck sailed past Kruger’s screen of goalie Calvin Pickard.
It was a classic unheralded play that Kruger has made for the Hawks for seven seasons, since making his NHL debut in 2011.
“He’s an unbelievable hockey player,” said Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who scored the second of two goals for Sweden in the shootout. “He does so much for this group and in Chicago. You need those kind of players, as well, if you want to have a chance to win. Doesn’t matter if it’s a world championship or the Stanley Cup. I told him afterward, ‘You only win,’ because that’s all he does.”
It hadn’t felt that way to Kruger before this tournament.
He has battled significant hand injuries the last two years, has struggled to generate offense and has felt the sting of the Hawks’ first-round playoff exits the last two years.
“We all know how it ended in Chicago,” Kruger said, referring to the Hawks being swept by the Predators after compiling the most points (109) in the Western Conference. “I’m not happy with that, but coming over here and playing for Sweden and coming out on top is unbelievable. It’s just a great feeling.”
Next up for Kruger is a measure of uncertainty.
Because of his $3.083 million salary-cap figure, there’s a chance he might get traded for salary-cap purposes. There’s also a chance he could be taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft next month.
It’s something he’ll think about more in a few weeks, once the festivities in Sweden subside. For now, Kruger is more focused on celebrating Sweden’s gold and turning 27 on Saturday.
“It’s my first time ever winning something with Team Sweden,” Kruger said. “It’s new for me, so I know how important this is for all the guys on the team, but for Swedish hockey, too. It’s going to be a good thing coming back to Sweden and sharing this with the people over there.”
Follow me on Twitter @BrianHedger.