by Brandon Weiss | AHL On The Beat
The Heat had just returned to Stockton Arena after splitting a two-game set at Tucson the weekend before the turn of the calendar to 2019, the start to the unofficial second half of the season following the AHL’s holiday break.
The room was bare, save for one stall — Marcus Hogstrom’s real estate which was adorned with the familiar skates, pads and helmet, but notably featuring a yellow non-contact practice jersey.
It was December 30th of the blue-liner’s first season in North America and he had yet to dress for a game or even take part in a practice with the team due to offseason surgery.
“(Dealing with the injury) was tough in the beginning,” Hogstrom said. “You come here for the first time and you feel like you’re letting everybody down, everyone around you –- agents, the team, the entire Calgary organization. I felt so bad.”
It was certainly a long road back. Athletic trainer James Borrelli was there every step of the way.
“You could tell he was bummed to be sidelined right off the bat with an injury,” Borrelli said. “But he did really well. He was resilient. Because he’s the mature guy that he is, he knew what it took to back to the game.”
The pair worked together to get the Stockholm, Sweden, native back to playing shape, off the ice and away from the lights, tucked in the Heat’s training room beneath the seats behind the home bench at Stockton Arena. Rep after rep, day after day, patiently progressing until finally he could get back onto the ice.
No stick, no puck, no whistles, no checks or line changes. Just Hogstrom and Borrelli and a mountain to climb.
“It was tough,” said Hogstrom. “It’s been an experience for life. It was a tough recovery, wasn’t fun to do all of this rehab. But now that’s in the past. I feel good, and I hope I can get better every day now.”
Hogstrom’s absence was amplified by a pair of defensemen, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, graduating to the NHL’s Calgary Flames. The former got the call prior to the season starting, the latter skating in 18 games this year with Stockton before joining the big club.
Handcuffed with three big pieces down, the Heat have had to plug and play on the defensive end, shifting pieces that were supposed to be depth players up the depth chart, placing Band-Aids on the penalty kill and bringing in a list of PTOs on the back end.
Hogstrom would have been a key cog in the machine. A veteran presence with Swedish Hockey League and KHL games under his belt, Hogstrom led the SHL in time on ice in 2017-18. He’s a strong-skating defenseman who had built a reputation as a quality two-way player -– described as a “top-five defenseman in the league” by SHL broadcaster Henric Larsson following the 17-18 season.
Hogstrom was the latest in a string of Swedes along the blue line to sign with the Flames organization, following in the footsteps of Andersson and Kylington and joining teammate Adam Ollas Mattsson, who had played with Hogstrom from 2014-17 with Djurgardens IF in Sweden.
“Having known Marcus for a couple of years now, playing with him in Djurgardens, it was pretty hard to see him out,” said Ollas Mattsson. “I know he wanted to be out there on the ice and be with the guys.”
Hogstrom made his return to the ice on January 16, a 4-2 loss at Bakersfield. His line for the game was a non-descript one, what would otherwise have gone unnoticed over the course of a 68-game slate: no goals, no assists, no shots on goal, minus-1.
Beyond the box score, though, it was another step in the right direction, the biggest to date, and an introduction to the North American game.
“I thought he was very good,” said Heat head coach Cail MacLean after Hogstrom’s debut. “In terms of that being his first game in a while, that was a pretty solid game. He’s going to be a strong player at this level for sure. He was a guy that we had been counting on all year, and to be missing him up to this point, that was a tough blow to the team.”
First test, passed. At least in the coach’s eyes.
“It was fun to be back,” said Hogstrom after finally putting skates to ice surface in a meaningful game. “It was my first game since April. I felt a little bit tired in the end, but the whole game I was just trying to have fun and enjoy the game.”
After the long road of grueling rehab, he deserved to enjoy this one – white sweater and all.