As taxed as he was this season, Alex Nedeljkovic wasn’t about to turn down a chance to represent his country at a premier international tournament.
Nedeljkovic is among the contingent of Detroit Red Wings who will participate at the World Championship, which runs May 13-29 in Helsinki and Tampere, Finland. Joining Nedeljkovic with the U.S. is former Wings coach Jeff Blashill, serving as an assistant coach. Former Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin, now in the same role with the New York Rangers, is the U.S. GM.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Nedeljkovic said. “Any time you get to represent your country, it’s a great honor, it’s a special opportunity. I think it’s a great honor and I think everybody should take advantage if you have the opportunity to do it. How often do you get to overseas and spend time there? I’m excited. It’s my first World Championship and it’ll be exciting to explore the city.”
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Defenseman Moritz Seider is representing Germany, while Pius Suter will play for Switzerland. Jakub Vrana and Filip Hronek head up the Czech contingent. Lucas Raymond turned down an invitation to represent Sweden because he said he needed to rest before beginning training for next season, and Jonatan Berggren had to drop out Wednesday after testing positive for COVID. Magnus Hellberg, who played in the Wings’ finale and is angling for a new contract, is part of Sweden’s team.
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Nedeljkovic started 52 of his 59 appearances in his first year with the Wings, posting a 3.31 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He had a strong first half but went through slumps in the second and expressed frustration after the season in assessing his performance.
“It was pretty up and down,” Nedeljkovic said. “It wasn’t a bad season by any means, it wasn’t great. It was just kind of in-between. I thought there were nights when I was feeling really good about my game and then there was a stretch where I was doing a little too much, I was fighting the puck, and things were just going in every which way. That’s a season. I came into the season with some goals in mind and hit a few, missed on a few. Mainly I just want to be more consistent and to give us a chance to win every night.”
General manager Steve Yzerman signed Nedeljkovic, 26, to a two-year, $6 million deal shortly after acquiring him from the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in 2021 and the rights to goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The Wings needed to get younger and more athletic in goal, and Nedeljkovic was coming off a Calder Trophy-finalist performance. But Nedeljkovic’s rookie of the year nomination came during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season; he went from playing 23 games to more than double that.
“I don’t think you really understand the mental grind of an 82-game NHL season,” Nedeljkovic said. “I played a lot of hockey before but nothing like this. You can’t really compare it. Yeah, we travel nice, we travel with private plane and we stay in nice hotels, but it definitely takes a lot out of you when you have to play here at 7:30 and then fly to Winnipeg and play the next night; or fly to Columbus and play and then go get on a plane for 2½-3 hours and then play Dallas. It’s a grind. I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity to have played as much as I did this year. I’m going to take a lot from it and hopefully I can use that for next year, when things start to get tough, just reflect on it a little bit and find a way better way to push through it and be more consistent.”
The Wings don’t have the scoring power to hide when their goalies struggle, and Nedeljkovic was part of some lopsided losses — 10-7 at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 9-2 at home to the Arizona Coyotes, 11-2 at the Pittsburgh Penguins. A personal lowlight happened March 10, when Nedeljkovic accidentally swiped the puck into his own net during a game against the Minnesota Wild. Through the challenges, though, Nedeljkovic honed his mental toughness and kept smiling.
“I’m always trying to have a positive mindset, a positive attitude towards things,” Nedeljkovic said. “It’s a lot easier when you’re winning. It’s always more difficult when you’re not having success, to have that positive outlook. But at the end of the day, we’re playing a game, it’s just a hockey game. We get to do that for a living and come to the rink and practice for an hour and work out and then come home and do whatever you want — play video games, go golfing, spend time with your family. There were some times this year where it was a little bit more difficult to be positive and I went through a rough patch, and it was tough to find the positives. But they’re there, whether it’s just one thing that gets you through the day. There’s always something there to get you through it.”
For Nedeljkovic, the positive to missing the playoffs was a chance to play at the World Championship. The U.S. begins the tournament Friday against Latvia.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.