by Lindsey Horsting | AHL On The Beat
Saying every Swede plays padel is like saying every Canadian plays hockey. It’s only partly true.
Padel is a hybrid between tennis and squash that was at its height in Sweden during the COVID-19 pandemic, and according to the Swedish players on Abbotsford’s roster, there were times when it was nearly impossible to book a court.
The initial spike in popularity of padel has come back down, but the sport is still growing. Among second-year Abbotsford Canucks forwards Linus Karlsson and Nils Åman, and first-year defenseman Filip Johansson, Karlsson was the most taken with the sport. Two summers ago, he played as much as five times a week and it’s something he still enjoys doing when he goes home.
“I’d always do my training and conditioning before, and then if I had some time afterwards, I’d play padel,” Karlsson said, adding that he picked up pickleball this summer and got a few games in. “I know pickleball too and it’s really fun.”
Åman jumped on the padel bandwagon two years ago as well, but only picked up a racket once this offseason, agreeing that it’s a great social sport.
“It’s kind of an easy game to play and learn. It’s nice to get some friends together, it’s easy to play and it’s fun,” Åman said.
Johansson tried it but found it wasn’t his thing.
“I played a bit, but I sucked at it. I’m more of a golf guy,” Johansson laughed.
While two of them table racket sports during the AHL season, the trio has bonded over various other activities in the short time since becoming teammates. They enjoy watching Netflix, cooking together, and gaming.
Of course, their competitiveness doesn’t stop on the ice – it makes its way into their FIFA gaming too. They were only half-teasing when mentioning they need to host their own tournament to put their skills to test.
As the three were discussing who has the best controller skills after practice, Åman pointed to himself and without skipping a beat Johansson quipped, “It’s not you for sure,” making everyone laugh.
They spend so much time together they finish each other’s sentences and can communicate without saying much at all.
Johansson says the team and the organization have helped him settle in, and Åman and Karlsson have made it even easier. Despite Abbotsford being similar to Sweden as far as landscape, weather and cuisine is concerned, it’s got its own nuances like any other city, and he’s looked to them for guidance.
“The transition has been easier for me because I’ve been able to ask these two guys so many questions. It’s all the small stuff that you need to learn,” Johansson said.
“I’m happy they’re here. Everything is easier because I can ask in Swedish and I know they have been in exactly the same situation I am right now, so of course that helps. Helping me get acquainted off the ice has been awesome too. We hang out together and do a lot of fun things together.”
Åman has given Johansson insight into the nuances of the North American game. He played a total of 85 games between Vancouver and Abbotsford last season, scoring 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in the NHL and nine points (four goals, five assists) in the AHL.
“It’s hard and it’s not the same in Sweden. It’s a little bit smaller rink in North America, a bit faster, and you don’t have that much time with the puck,” Åman said.
Åman has had a strong start this season, picking up a goal and an assist in Abbotsford’s first regular-season game against Laval, and getting his first AHL hat trick on Oct. 21 against Calgary.
Karlsson finished last season as the top goal scorer for the Canucks and led Abbotsford in rookie scoring. He had a stretch of nine games where he tallied one point, and finding resolve when things get tough is wisdom he can pass on. In 72 games he scored 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) and this season he has five points through six contests.
“It’s nice to get some points and confidence, but much more importantly is getting the win and feeling like I created good scoring opportunities for myself and my teammates,” Karlsson said.
Johansson focused his offseason on getting stronger and with every practice and game is feeling more comfortable with the different style of play.
“It’s a bit different defensively in front of the net, so I’m working on that and continuing to build like Åman and Karlsson. The NHL is the goal in the end, but just focusing day to day and trying to get better,” he said.
As the three of them strive for the NHL, they’re hunting wins in Abbotsford and trying to help their team and each other along the way.