by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
Rookie left winger Carl Klingberg doesn’t hesitate when asked about playing in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador and the easternmost city in North America.
“It’s just awesome. The fans are great,” he said. “Everyone lives for hockey there.”
The St. John’s IceCaps, the primary affiliate for the Winnipeg Jets, have been welcomed with open arms into the city of just over 100,000 residents, selling out every home game this season at Mile One Centre.
Klingberg, a 21-year-old Swedish transplant, feels right at home in St. John’s, which is back in the loop this season after six years without AHL hockey. The city was previously home to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top affiliate from 1991 to 2005.
“It’s not that big of a difference,” he said of the adjustment between European and Canadian living. “The town is awesome and people are friendly. The biggest difference is probably language, but my English is improving.”
Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the second round (34th overall) in 2009, Klingberg spent several years in Swedish professional leagues before making his transatlantic move to North American hockey.
Since then, he has distinguished himself as an asset in the Winnipeg organization, leading all IceCaps rookies in scoring with 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points and a plus-6 rating in 57 games so far this season.
With their offense strong across the board – 10 IceCaps, including Klingberg, have hit double digits in goals scored – St. John’s sits on the verge of winning the AHL’s Atlantic Division with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 39-20-5-3 (86 points).
“We are a very solid team,” Klingberg said. “We have four lines going all the time and we can trust everyone on the ice all the time.
“Everyone goes hard, and it doesn’t really matter who goes out there because everyone is playing good and solid. We have four lines that are all really good and we can wear a team down.”
Klingberg has played in six games with Winnipeg so far this year after making his NHL debut last season with Atlanta. Although he’s remained scoreless and averaged only about five minutes of playing time in the NHL, the feeling of playing at hockey’s highest level stays with him.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “The game’s a little bit faster and you’ve got to think a little bit faster, but you adjust to that after a while.
“Everything’s just a little bit better and you’ve got step your game up there for sure.”
From playing in Sweden to Atlanta to St. John’s to Winnipeg, Klingberg has had to adjust to all styles of the game in all forums.
“The size of the rink is probably the biggest difference,” he said. “It’s so much more east-west hockey in Europe and here it’s more north-south and kind of dump-and-chase sometimes.
But he likes the challenge.
“When I came over here, I got to play a lot and in different types of situations, like the power play,” he said. “That was awesome to finally get to play a lot and get better.”
Now, with fewer than 10 games left in the regular season, the rookie Klingberg has adopted the methodical mindset of a veteran.
“We want to win the whole thing,” he said of the Calder Cup. “But you can’t think too far forward. First of all, we’ve got to clinch our division win here and take as high spot in the conference as possible.
“You’ve got to win every game and make sure you come ready to play every single day.”