Swedes feel at home in Milwaukee

by Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat Archive
Scrolling up and down the 2014-15 Milwaukee Admirals lineup, it’s not difficult to spot something unique as far as teams in the American Hockey League—the team’s impressive Swedish contingent.
Through 73 games Milwaukee (33-27-7-6) has rostered six Swedish players, with four notable prospects: Forwards Viktor ArvidssonPontus Åberg, defenseman Johan Alm and goaltender Magnus Hellberg. All have successfully transitioned their games to fit the North American brand of hockey.
“Of course it helps a lot having all of the fellow Swedes on the roster here,” said Arvidsson, part of a Swedish crew in Milwaukee that has also included 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Cehlin this season. “It helps a lot [in the transition] off the ice, especially to have Magnus here, who’s been in Milwaukee for a couple of years now. He and Patrick really helped us new Swedes get adjusted to life here in the United States.”
To put Milwaukee’s Swedish influence in perspective, just compare the team’s roster to every other AHL club. Including only players on current rosters, the Admirals lead the league with four Swedish born prospects. Three other clubs have three Swedes, while 20 of the 30 clubs have one or none.
Arvidsson headlines the team’s imports this season. The rookie leads Milwaukee in assists (32), points (52) and was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team earlier this week. Arvidsson trails only Grand Rapids’ Teemu Pulkkinen in scoring among the league’s European skaters.
“It’s been really fun playing in Milwaukee and I like the game over here,” said Arvidsson, Nashville’s fourth-round pick in last summer’s NHL entry draft. “It’s fast and there are a lot of scoring chances. You have to do your best every day to succeed.”
A bit of a late bloomer, the 21-year-old Skellefteå, Sweden native is only 5’9”, but plays much larger than his diminutive size.
“Arvy is light and clearly he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he just works so hard,” Evason said of his first year forward who ranks 10th in AHL scoring and is second in rookie goal production with 19 tallies. “He has a high skill level, a great skill set, and he just wants to score. He wants to compete and battle every night and we love that about the guy.”
Through unselfish play in the offensive end, his attitude on and off the ice and his commitment to being sound defensively, Arvidsson is the kind of guy that makes his teammates better.
“You see his highlight reel goals, but you don’t see the little things that [Viktor] is doing,” Milwaukee coach Dean Evason said. “His attention to detail is terrific on and off the ice. He’s always in the gym and he really wants to play in the National Hockey League. He’s doing everything he can to set himself up to do that.”
Åberg continues to impress in his first North American campaign, picking up 16 goals (many of highlight reel variety) and 32 points, good for sixth on the team.
“The ice is a lot smaller over here so you really have to keep your head up,” Åberg said. “That is the biggest thing you learn playing in North America.”
It did not take long for the AHL and Admirals fans to take notice of Stockholm, Sweden native, as he scored a spectacular coast-to-coast goal in the team’s 6-3 opening night victory over Charlotte.
“Åberg’s [first AHL goal] was pretty impressive, basically end-to-end,” Evason said.
Also a 21-year-old, Nashville’s 2012 second-round pick has shown flashes of brilliance. However, his coaches stress the fact that Åberg must work on improving all phases of his game in order for it to carry over to the next level. That maturation process has involved a couple of healthy scratches.
“[Pontus] has got such gifts to score goals, but he’s still learning how to play the pro game,” Evason said. “We want to make sure he is playing the right way [to advance his career].”
In his limited time in Milwaukee (which stands at 20 total games sandwiched in between frequent trips between Nashville and Milwaukee), forward Viktor Stalberg serves as one of the team’s most important leaders.
“He’s been really good and every time Vik’s come down here he conducts himself professionally and plays hard every night,” Evason said. “We’ve got several young Swedes in our dressing room, so [Stalberg] can be a leader for us, which is probably something that he’s never been asked to do professionally. That’s a good learning experience for him.”
With his dynamic speed, Stalberg provided instant offense when he was in the lineup with Milwaukee, compiling 11 goals and 17 points with the Admirals to go along with 10 points in 24 games with the Predators.
Alm entered the season ready to take his place as of one of Milwaukee’s best blue liners. Unfortunately, the free agent’s first North American season was cut short by injury. But when Alm’s been in the lineup, the 23-year-old, and fellow Skellefteå native, provides a steadying influence.
“It was hard to not be able to play and be with the guys,” said Alm, who has 11 assists in 41 games with Milwaukee. “It was a tough time, but I’m looking forward to what’s coming ahead. We are going to have play well to make the playoffs and we have all the chances to do that.”
Hellberg represents one of two AHL All-Stars on the club (the other was Brendan Leipsic, who was traded to Toronto during the season). The towering Scandinavian goaltender has consistently posted some of the best numbers in the AHL in both his rookie and now third professional year.
Constantly battling fellow top prospect Marek Mazanec, Hellberg’s been nothing short of sparkling in the majority of his 37 games this season. To date the 6’6” Uppsala, Sweden native has posted a 15-10-5 record with a .915save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average.
Unfortunately, not every import finds success in the AHL or NHL, can successfully adjust to hockey in North America.
After a series of nagging injuries over the past few seasons, former Admirals forward Patrick Cehlin decided to return home to Sweden on January 26, 2015. Nashville’s fifth-round selection in 2010 was a solid contributor during his time in Milwaukee, picking up 56 points in 112 games over three seasons. Ultimately, the Stockholm native fell short of his dream of playing in the NHL.
For Milwaukee to continue steering toward a postseason path, all of team’s remaining Swedish imports must continue to stand out, just as they have throughout the winter months.
“[Arvidsson] has been playing really well, but really all of Swedes in Milwaukee have been playing well, so it’s been good for them playing over here,” Stalberg said. “They are all young guys, and it’s good to see them doing well. I’m hoping they keep doing that and help the team (win).”