by Suzie Cool | AHL On The Beat
It’s a total of 3,831 miles: The exact distance between Rochester, New York, and Gavle, Sweden, the hometown of Rochester Americans goaltender Jonas Johansson.
You could say that your hometown almost always holds a special place in your heart. It’s where you grew up, where your childhood home is, the source of most of your memories. But more importantly, this place represents where you came from and who you were before you decided to pursue whatever crazy dream you may have.
The thing about dreams, though, is that you can’t pursue them without the support of others. That support and unconditional love from the people that you left behind, along with the place you come from, are a huge representation of why you’re even where you’re at today.
How does one remember all of this in the midst of their pursuit? It’s simple, really. You just go on and play the game in the hopes that the crazy dream you have in the back of your mind will someday come true.
At the age of 24, Johansson is over 3,000 miles away from home and living in a country where his second language has become his first. He’s traded in the Baltic Sea for the east coast, lingonberries for a garbage plate – a Rochester staple that he has yet to try – and time spent with family to travel across the world and achieve the goal of eventually making it to the National Hockey League.
“Obviously it’s the awesome support from back home. Without that, there’s no chance to succeed over here,” said Johansson when talking about what drives him to keep pushing towards the next level. “I worked for this my entire life. Hockey has always been here, and it’s always been the goal. I think every young hockey player dreams about this.”
After three seasons of professional hockey in his home country, Johansson had the opportunity to join the Amerks on an amateur tryout back on Mar. 24, 2017, after being selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the NHL Draft in 2014. While on his tryout, Johansson made seven starts in the net, going 3-3-1 with 166 saves and a 2.85 goals-against average.
Shortly thereafter, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo.
When asked about what made the decision so easy to sign his entry-level contract with Buffalo, Johansson made it clear that it was an easy decision from the get-go.
“The Sabres are the highest level that you can strive to be at in the Buffalo organization. They put a lot of effort into the organization and that is really exciting to be a part of.”
From that point on, Johansson’s life would change tremendously. He would no longer be playing for the professional team that was located in his backyard, but now one across the world far away from anything he has ever known.
In his first full professional season in 2017-18, Johansson spent most of his time in the ECHL, appearing in seven games with Rochester. That season was also the last time that his mother Ulrica came to watch her son play in North America. She scheduled her first visit once around the Christmas break and her second was interrupted by a call-up to Rochester, making her travel – and desire to watch her son do what he does best – a little more difficult than the time before.
“It’s been kind of bumpy. She’s missed me play the last two seasons. The first year she came down to Cincinnati and the day after I got called up to Rochester. So, she and my girlfriend ended up driving up here. We had one dinner together and then it was off to a road trip. I only ended up seeing her for a half of a day,” said Johansson.
Last season, Johansson spent a second year in the ECHL, going 18-5-3 with a .908 save percentage in 27 games with Cincinnati. He also saw time with the Amerks for five games, going 4-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
Fast-forward to this year and Johansson is one half of the AHL’s top goaltending tandem, one that has allowed a league-low 66 goals and has combined for six shutouts. Johansson is 9-2-2 in 14 games with the Amerks and won his last seven decisions before Christmas, including a 26-save shutout against Charlotte on Dec. 6.
Now we all know that recording a shutout is something special for a goalie. A shutout is one of those things you don’t dare speak about until the clock hits zero come the end of the third period for fear that somehow this moment could be jinxed by the sheer word. It’s one of those moments that even someone like Johanssson, who has played nearly 200 pro games between Sweden and North America, has only been able to accomplish 10 times.
But what made Johansson’s shutout even more special on that night in early December?
Mom was watching from the stands.
After two years of not seeing her son play in person, Ulrica made the trek back to America with perfect timing. And it should come as no surprise that Mom came on a night to remember as this season Johansson has been performing tremendously in the net, splitting time with veteran netminder Andrew Hammond.
On top of his standout statistics, Johansson attributes much of his success this season to feeling more comfortable knowing that Rochester seems to be his home for the 2019-20 campaign.
“That’s the biggest thing, just feeling comfortable. I mean, the other times I’ve been up here I’ve been staying at the hotel and I didn’t know how long I was going to be here while trying to make the biggest impression every day. Now I’m here with the team, I live here and I’m here every day.”
With everything seeming to fall into place for Johansson out on the ice, it’s truly serendipitous that his mom could be here for such a monumental moment in his hockey career.
“It was just too good to be true. She really enjoyed watching the hockey because she’s only seen Swedish hockey on the big rink and she liked this more because of the higher pace,” said Johansson.
Luckily for the Johanssons, there was no unexpected travel hindering their time together. This time Ulrica got to see three Amerks games at Blue Cross Arena, visit KeyBank Center in Buffalo to watch the Sabres take on the St. Louis Blues, and tour the city that her son now calls his home away from home – all within a week span.
Since Mom’s visit, Jonas has continued to find success in the crease, getting another pair of wins under his belt after her departure, including his second AHL shutout against the Binghamton Devils on Dec. 20. Coming off the Christmas break, Johansson has the second-best goal-against average in the league (1.92) and ranks third among all netminders with a .935 save percentage.
Along with the comfortability, skill set and stats, Johansson attributes much of his success to those back home. He truly feels that without his support system back in Sweden, the life he’s embarking on is nowhere close to being possible.
“I think that can be hard to do and you kind of forget sometimes (where you came from),” Johansson said. “Once you really settle down, though, and think about how far you have actually come it’s important to have that in the back of your mind. It makes it easier when you’re struggling and fighting one day, you realize where your hard work has taken you.”