Swedish trio diversifies Bears

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 10:34 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 29, 2010, at 5:11 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — In University of Maine sophomore left wing Theo Andersson’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, there is a Volvo Museum.

Freshman center Klas Leidermark is from Gavel, Sweden, and that is where Gevalia was introduced. Gevalia is a company that produces 40 premium coffees and teas. It was founded in 1853.

The third member of the Swedish trio is sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist, who hails from Malmo.

What is Malmo known for?

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“Nothing,” chimes in Andersson before adding, “Danish people.”

Nyquist quickly defends his hometown.

“We have a great big bridge between us and Denmark,” pointed out Nyquist. “And we’re getting an underground subway this summer that will span Malmo and Denmark and will also go all around the city. It has been a huge project.”

Boy-girl bands ABBA and Ace of Base are two of the best-known Swedish exports and hockey and soccer are the most popular sports.

The University of Maine hockey program has certainly benefited from its recruitment of Swedish players.

Four Swedes played on Maine’s 1999 NCAA championship team: twins Anders and Magnus Lundback, defenseman Robert Ek and winger Marcus Gustafson, who scored the game-winner in overtime as Maine beat archrival New Hampshire 3-2 in the NCAA title game in Anaheim, Calif.

Joakim Wahlstrom played on the 1988-89 team.

Maine assistant coach Dan Kerluke visited Sweden on a recruiting trip in 2007 and has brought in Nyquist, Andersson and Klas Leidermark.

“We’re in a unique position at Maine,” explained Kerluke. “It’s tough to get elite players from the U.S. because of our geographical location. Boston University and Boston College get the Boston kids; the western [and Midwestern] kids go to Denver, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, North Dakota, Minnesota or Michigan. In this day and age, families want their sons to stay close to home so they can see them play.

“And it’s tough to get elite Canadian players because a lot of them go to Major Junior teams. So Sweden was the next logical choice,” said Kerluke.

He spent time networking and making contacts in Sweden before making his first trip there in 2007. He has gone back to Sweden three times since.

“We had to expand our recruiting and get back into Europe and Dan has done a great job. Hopefully, we’ll get more to come,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead.

Valuable contributors

The 20-year-old Nyquist has made the biggest impact as he led the team in scoring a year ago with 13 goals and 19 assists in 38 games and he earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team. He is leading the team again this season and his 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) rank him second in the country.

Andersson and Leidermark, who are also 20, have been valuable contributors as well.

“They have each, in their own way, become important members of our team,” Whitehead said. “Gustav is our leading scorer and can change the course of a game in a moment. He is one of the premier players in the country. He is a dynamic offensive player who has improved tremendously on defense as well. He’s fun to watch and can bring you out of your seat with his creativity. He is not only a skilled player, he is a gritty competitor who wins a ton of loose pucks.

“Theo has really solidified his spot as a defensive forward who can chip in offensively. He has been tremendous on the penalty kill. He blocks shots, clears rebounds and breaks up plays,” continued Whitehead. “He was chosen one of our two most improved players last year. He came on real well in the second half and has taken another step this year. He has great speed and uses his stick extremely well not only on the penalty kill, but also five-on-five.”

Andersson didn’t have any points in 18 games last season but has two goals and an assist in 15 games already this season.

Leidermark had two assists in 14 games but has made his mark as an efficient defensive center.

“He has very quietly become a great defensive centerman,” said Whitehead. “He plays a very clean [defensive] game. He rarely has a scoring chance against him. He’s a very smart hockey player and I think the fans will see him take a big step next season as well.”

“They have fit right in just like everybody else,” said junior defenseman and assistant captain Jeff Dimmen. “They have adapted to everything here.”

“The guys love all of them,” said Maine assistant Bob Corkum. “They all do well in school and they are good teammates. They are also extremely coachable.”

“We had to Americanize them a little bit. Their clothing is a little bit flamboyant. But we’ve gotten used to it over time,” grinned sophomore defenseman Will O’Neill, who lives with Nyquist, Andersson and sophomore defenseman Ryan Hegarty.

“They’re all good guys,” added O’Neill. “They lift the spirits of the guys in the locker room. They’re funny guys.”

Smooth transition

The transition for the three Swedes hasn’t been as difficult as it could have been because English is taught as a second language in Sweden and children are subjected to it at a very early age. They still had to familiarize themselves with English and getting used to speaking it every day.

“My English wasn’t that good until I came here,” said Leidermark.

And when they misuse a word or phrase something differently, their teammates are quick to needle them about it good-naturedly.

“Theo will say something like ‘Hey, come in here and look at this [TV] show with me. He means ‘come watch this show.’ We get a good chuckle out of it,” said O’Neill.

Hegarty and O’Neill are actually trying to learn Swedish.

“[Hegarty] is pretty good. He can count to 100 in Swedish and can say some small things. Will is terrible,” said Nyquist.

“A bunch of us would like to go over to Sweden this summer,” said O’Neill.

Hockey and academics

The Swedes came to Maine to play hockey and get an education.

“Back home, you really can’t combine the two,” said Andersson. “You either play hockey or get a [college] degree.”

Nyquist said his biggest challenge has been “keeping track of school and hockey at the same time. I’m trying to do well in school because I want to get an education as well.”

“That has been the biggest difference,” concurred Andersson.

Swedish teenagers play junior hockey and then either go to college or go on to play professional hockey.

Coming to the United States to play college hockey is another option.

Nyquist said coming to America to play hockey is a growing trend in Sweden.

“A lot of guys back home watch us on TV and ask us a lot of questions about it [when we go back home],” said Nyquist.

“Junior hockey isn’t big at all in Sweden,” sand Anderson. “You only get 200 fans [to a game]. There’s a big difference here. It’s great when you go out on the ice and you hear the fans screaming.”

Eight of Hockey East’s 10 schools are averaging at least 3,733 fans per game. Maine is averaging 4,460.

Leidermark said more people will approach them and engage them in conversation than they do in Sweden.

“Everybody knows we play hockey, which is good. They know about hockey more than they do back home,” said Leidermark.

They said the practices are longer here and they have more players on the team than they had at home.

Adapting

The players said they have had to adapt to the smaller rinks. Rinks in Sweden are Olympic-sized (200 feet by 100 feet) while most rinks in college hockey are 200 by 85 or 87.

And despite the smaller rinks, they find the pace of the college game is much faster than Junior hockey in Sweden.

“There are a lot more shots and a lot more hits and that makes the game more fun,” said Nyquist. “That’s the biggest reason why I came over.”

Nyquist is a fourth-round draft choice of the Detroit Red Wings and felt it was necessary for his future pro career to learn how to play in the smaller NHL rinks. He noted that he has had to adapt to neutral-zone traps since a lot of teams use it in certain situations like when they’re trying to protect a lead.

Andersson said he wanted an education and to play hockey at a higher level “and when Dan [Kerluke] told me about everything, it was perfect for me. And, so far, it has been awesome.”

Nyquist and Andersson helped recruit Leidermark.

“I wanted to go to an American college and those guys told me they liked it here. I talked to different colleges but I liked Maine the most,” said Leidermark who, like the other two, doesn’t regret his decision.

“I love it here. I like the games. The crowds are unbelievable,” said Leidermark, whose nickname is ‘Santa’ because his first name is pronounced Claus as in Santa Claus.

Nyquist echoed Leidermark’s sentiment and all three said their parents have visited and share their love of the school and the state.

They said the environment is similar to Sweden but there are things they miss about home including being with their families.

“The food is greasier here,” added Leidermark, with his mates in agreement. “I miss the home-cooked food like meatballs.”

“I miss sleeping in my own bed, stuff like that,” said Andersson.

Nyquist said Andersson is a homebody who uses Skype for a video visit with his parents half an hour a day.

“So it’s good for him to be over here. He’s growing up,” joked Nyquist.

They said they are surprised a Swedish indoor game called bandy or bandy ball hasn’t caught on in the United States.

“It’s like street hockey but you play it with a different stick. I can’t believe it’s not big here. It’s so much fun,” said Andersson.

UMaine roles

Nyquist hasn’t had to alter his game as much as Andersson and Leidermark.

Nyquist was a prolific point-producer in Sweden and that has continued here.

“I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve done so far and I want to keep playing like I have been lately. I’ve been getting a lot of help from my linemates [Brian Flynn and Tanner House]. Without them, I couldn’t do much on the ice,” said Nyquist. “I’m excited for this team. I think we can really do something special this year.”

Andersson and Leidermark were also good point-producers in Sweden but have accepted their current roles.

“I had been used to playing guys my own age in Sweden and when I came over here last year, I was playing against guys three and four years older,” said Andersson. “I tried to adjust as fast as I could. It was kind of a tough year last year.

“But I feel I’ve come a long way and I’m much more comfortable out there now. I wasn’t used to playing on the penalty kill as much but I love it. I want to play as much as I can and I’ll do whatever I can [to do so],” said Andersson.

“Obviously, I’d like to play on the power play and score goals,” said Leidermark. “But you’ve got to play strong defensively and you’ve got to play smart. So this is a good way to start [by learning how to play effectively in the defensive zone[. Maybe, eventually, I’ll get to play on the power play.”

“I have been very impressed with their unselfish attitudes,” said Whitehead, who expects Andersson and Leidermark to expand their roles as they continue to improve.

The Swedes and their mates entertain Merrimack College tonight at 7 in a Hockey East game.

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