(Reuters) - The Swedish men’s ice hockey team were dealt a major blow to their medal chances at the Sochi Games when Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin withdrew from the Winter Olympics on Thursday due to a rib injury.
Center Sedin, who with his twin Daniel has been an instrumental figure for Sweden in recent years, had been trying to play through the injury since last month but was shut down by the Canucks for the next two National Hockey League games on Thursday.
“This is a difficult decision but ultimately the best decision for me personally, Team Sweden and the Vancouver Canucks,” Sedin said in a statement. “I wish my team mates the best and look forward to returning to play.”
Henrik and Daniel had played for Sweden in the past two Olympics, including the country’s gold-medal triumph in the 2006 Games in Turin. Henrik is usually the playmaker and Daniel the goal scorer.
The 33-year-old brothers both starred for a Swedish national team that triumphed at the 2013 world championships, and were viewed as key to help Sweden rebound from a disappointing fifth-place finish in Vancouver four years ago.
Daniel had a goal and five assists in four games at last year’s world championships while Henrik had four goals and five assists in the four games he played, including a three-point effort in the gold medal game.
Sweden also will have one of the top goaltenders in Sochi with Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped the Swedes to the gold in Turin.
Henrik, a three-time NHL All-Star and former league most valuable player, became the second major National Hockey League player to be sidelined from the Games in as many days.
Prolific Canadian scorer Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning was forced to withdraw on Wednesday when a broken leg did not heal in time, a major setback for the defending Olympic champions.
Lightning team mate Martin St. Louis was selected to replace him.
Sedin had been so eager to compete in Sochi that he played for the Canucks in their last two games, despite still suffering pain from the injury sustained on January 16 when cross-checked in the ribs by Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes.
He played again on January 18, against the Calgary Flames, but left early and his extraordinary run of 679 consecutive games ended three days later when he did not take to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers.
Sedin missed six games before rejoining the Canucks on a road trip and played in back-to-back losses to the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins on Monday and Tuesday, but was unable to take faceoffs and was in visible discomfort on the bench.
Canucks coach John Tortorella had expressed hope Sedin would pull out of the Sochi Games but said the decision would have to be made by the player.
”Do I want him to go? Absolutely not,“ Tortorella told reporters. ”I‘m thinking about our hockey club. But I am not having a conversation with him about that; that is his call.
“That’s your country. He’s going to have to work that out with his family and let us know what he wants to do.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry