- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Henrik and Daniel Sedin promise they're not trying to make life difficult for me, but I can't help but think the identical twins are getting some pleasure out of standing in the middle of the Vancouver Canucks dressing room to do their interviews individually instead of standing in front of their name-tagged lockers like their teammates.
Unable to decipher the two by inspecting their perfectly shaven red beards, I can only hope a question about the game-winning goal in the Vancouver Canucks' playoff opening 3-2 win over Los Angeles Kings (a perfect behind-the-net pass from Henrik to fellow Swede Mikael Samuelsson) will solve the mystery without embarrassingly asking who I'm talking to.
"We knew sooner or later we were going to get a chance to score and Mikael finished off my pass," Henrik said.
(Note to self, it is now safe to pull out the Henrik Sedin questions.)
As tough as it is to tell the Sedins apart off the ice, it pales in comparison to the difficulty of stopping the dynamic duo on it. This season, the Sedins, who combined on one goal and each set up another in the Canucks' overtime win over the Kings, made the transition from good players to superstars and in the process have made the Canucks a legitimate threat to be the first Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup since 1993.
Henrik led the NHL in scoring; recording a career-high 112 points to win to win the Art Ross trophy, awarded to the league's highest points scorer, and also led the league with 83 assists. Daniel, who missed 18 games because of a foot injury at the beginning of the season, recorded a career-high 85 points in 63 games and set a career high with 56 assists.
Twins in sports are an interesting breed. Sometimes they play different positions (Ronde and Tiki Barber). Sometimes one is considerably better than the other (Jose and Ozzie Canseco). And sometimes one becomes an athlete while the other goes on to do something completely different like become a school teacher (Teemu and Paavo Selanne). Rarely, however, do they both turn out to be superstars in the same sport. The odds of that happening are about as minuscule as both being drafted by the same team with back-to-back picks.
'No one is leaving here with both of them -- only I can'
The Sedins, who have played together on the same line since Daniel switched from center to wing at 14, had always hoped they would play together in the NHL.
They had said so publicly and even threatened to sit out two years after the 1999 NHL draft if they were selected by different teams so they would become unrestricted free agents. Despite their wishes and threats, both had anticipated being drafted by separate teams and eventually coming to terms with playing without one another.
It seemed the only person who wouldn't give up on the hope of seeing the Sedins perform the same magic on the same line in the NHL as they had in the Swedish Elite League were they were named co-MVPs was then-Vancouver Canucks general manager Brian Burke who famously pronounced before the draft in Boston, "No one is leaving here with both of them -- only I can."
After a series of draft-day trades netted Vancouver the second and third picks in the draft (Patrik Stefan, who is now a player agent in Laguna Beach, Calif., and a coach at Orange County Ice Palace, was the first overall pick by Atlanta), Burke left with both Sedins just as he had predicted.
As happy as the Sedins were to stay together, the reason the Canucks worked so hard and gave up so much to keep the twins intact was Burke and Vancouver scout Thomas Gradin didn't think they would be as good separated as they were together. Although the Sedins would be the first to agree they're not as potent apart, it didn't take long for them to grow tired of the perception one couldn't play without the other.
'The Sedin Sisters'
If the Sedins had taken their act to a team outside of Canada maybe their highlight plays, acrobatic goals and mesmerizing give-and-gos would have been enough to appease the home fans but not in Canada.
Despite a Sedin leading the Canucks in scoring every season since 2006-2007 and the tandem leading Vancouver to the playoffs three of the past four seasons, the Sedins earned the nickname of "The Sedin Sisters" by fans and local talk show hosts.
The twins' penchant for creating scoring opportunities for one another but inability to get physical or step up in big games made them an easy target for frustrated fans and media members alike. The Sedins admit they read and heard it all but never let the criticism get to them.
"We never changed, we've always been the same way," Daniel said. "It's a big part of Vancouver so it brings the best out of you. It's good pressure."
Although the Sedins didn't change their attitude -- continuing to speak to reporters and answering all their questions even after tough playoffs losses when some of their teammates refused to face the firing line -- there's no question the 29-year-old tandem has matured on the ice which has led to a breakout season for both them and the Canucks.
"We both worked hard to get to where we are," Henrik said. "It's not like we're just using each other to get points anymore. Now we can do it ourselves which is a big difference from before."
'It was a big deal for me'
Henrik can be honest about it now that it's over, but he wanted nothing more than to show his critics he didn't need Daniel to be a superstar in this league. He knows he's a better player with Daniel and Daniel knows he's a better player with Henrik but the notion they couldn't be first-line players without each other was wrong.
It was a perception he couldn't change, however, since both players hardly ever missed a game. Henrik is the second-longest active ironman, having played in 416 consecutive games, and Daniel had missed just one game from 2004 before this season. That all changed early this season when Daniel missed 18 games because of a foot injury from Oct. 11-Nov. 20.
Playing without his brother for an extended period for the first time since they began playing organized hockey in Sweden as 8-year-olds, Henrik got off to the best start of his career. He notched his first NHL hat trick in an 8-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 14 and before his brother's return he reeled off seven goals in seven games.
"It was a big deal for me for people outside to know that we could produce without each other," Henrik said. "I tried to focus on the same things and not change anything but of course you miss your brother and a great player. We haven't been injured a whole lot so we never had the chance to show that we could play without each other. This was the chance and I think I showed I can play without my brother and he can too."
As much as Henrik relished in proving his critics wrong and playing the best hockey of his life, he admits he wasn't as good until Daniel returned to the line and wouldn't have won the Art Ross Trophy without Daniel by his side. His numbers would certainly bear that out as Henrik improved when he brother returned as he recorded a league-leading 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 15 games in December.
"We talked a lot during that time," Daniel said. "He didn't think he played as good as he wanted to, but he put up points and he did as good as job as you could expect and once I came back he continued playing the same way and things have been good."
'Not a chance'
Asked if he would be able to be the player he is today if Daniel had been selected by Atlanta instead of Vancouver, Henrik quickly shakes his head and says, "No, not a chance.
"I think this year with him in the lineup the point per game is much higher when you compare it to when he was out. I think I would be a decent player, a good first liner but it's special to play with him."
Daniel played so well upon his return from injury he would have likely challenged Henrik for the Art Ross Trophy, which would have made for an interesting finish to the season as the last week of Vancouver's season was seemingly dedicated to getting Henrik as many points as possible and unseating Alex Ovechkin.
"I think Hank has proven he can play without me, I haven't done that yet," Daniel said. "It was interesting. I really didn't know what to expect when I was out and he did a good job and I think it was good for our confidence knowing he could do that without me. When I came back he realized he could play well without me but that he plays better with me. It might have been a good thing that we were separated for a little bit."
'I don't want to play without him'
It has been nearly 11 years since the baby-faced Sedins held up their Canucks jerseys for the first time after being drafted by Burke, who is now the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager. The 18-year-old kids will turn 30 in September, with Daniel celebrating his birthday six minutes before Daniel. They've gone from hockey focused teenagers to husbands and fathers with Daniel having a 2-year-old daughter, Ronja, and a 2-year-old son, Erik, with his wife, Marinette, and Henrik having a 3-year-old son, Valter, with his wife, Johanna.
"It is amazing when you think about it," said Henrik, who was chasing Valter around the dressing room after winning the scoring title in the regular-season finale. "We've been together for so long we don't even think about it anymore but before the draft we thought for sure we were going to end up on different teams, but we were fortunate to be drafted by the same team."
The thought of playing without each other now seems so foreign to the both of them they don't even think about it, not just when talking to the media but to the Vancouver front office as well. They continue to negotiate identical contract extensions as if they were a package deal and plan on continuing the practice until they retire.
"We're almost 30 years old now so if we've played this long together we'd like to finish our careers together," Henrik said. "I don't want to play without him."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
10hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com