by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
It’s every goaltender’s job to avoid goals.
Maybe that’s why Niklas Svedberg only has one: “You play hockey because you want to win hockey games.”
And win he has. The Providence Bruins rookie has amassed a 32-8-2 record in his first season in the American Hockey League, with no signs of slowing down.
“There’s no reason to have any other goal than winning,” he said. “That’s the mindset to have.”
Signed by the Boston Bruins last May, the 23-year-old Swedish netminder has been winning in Providence ever since. Now almost a year later, the P-Bruins are comfortably at the top of the Atlantic Division and on the brink of their first trip to the AHL postseason since 2009.
“[Svedberg’s] been great from day one,” said Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Like every other team, when you’ve got a lot of faith in your goaltender, you play a little looser. He’s there to make the saves when we need him.”
Svedberg’s achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. He represented the host team at the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts AHL All-Star Classic in Providence in late January, and was tapped as the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for March.
“I’m grateful and it’s nice to get those types of things, but I have to thank my teammates and the staff, because they help me with everything,” Svedberg said. “Playing hockey my first year in North America, it’s been a great experience and I’m enjoying it.”
As he points out, although he’s a rookie by AHL standards, he’s no rookie. Before signing with Boston, Svedberg spent three years honing his skills in the Swedish Elite League and even won a championship with Brynas in his final season.
“The best way to describe him is he’s a very competitive person, but under control,” said Cassidy. “He’s good at closing out games.
“He battles through it. That’s why he wins a lot of games and I’m sure that’s why he won a championship last year in Sweden.”
Ranking among the AHL’s leaders this season in goals-against average (2.26) and save percentage (.922) as well as victories, Svedberg has lost just twice in regulation over the past three months, including a 20-1-1 stretch from Jan. 4 until Mar. 29.
Almost 4,000 miles away from his home, Svedberg insists that his adjustment to the North American game has been smooth.
“It’s a little bit different because of the bigger rinks (in Europe), but I would say it’s pretty close,” he said. “As a goalie, I try to play the same game that I played back home over here. But it’s been great to play in the American Hockey League. It’s a really good league and you meet a lot of good players.”
As Svedberg grows into his identity as a future NHLer, he says he has his coaching staff and team to thank.
“I’ve got good help over here from the organization giving me a chance to play and helping me work on details,” he said. “I’m part of a good team with good players, which helps.”
Though only time will tell where Svedberg’s development is headed, Coach Cassidy recognizes some familiar marks in his game.
“He’s got some of Tim [Thomas] in him with his battle level and some of [Anton] Khudobin in him with the way he competes in the crease,” Cassidy said. “He’s a guy that knows how to win games and rises up to those moments.”
Svedberg, Cassidy and the rest of their Providence squad will soon be tested in that regard, as the regular season winds down and the Calder Cup Playoffs start up.
As they enter a three-game weekend, they know one win would secure their spot in the playoffs. And Svedberg knows that one goal could make all the difference.
“For me as a goalie, I just want to play as good as possible every game,” he said. “The goal is win the Calder Cup. That’s what I like about this team. Everyone wants to win and everyone believes we can win as well.
“It’s a long way to go and in the playoffs it’s going to be the very small details that matter. But that’s my goal — to win here.”