At some point in your life, you may have wondered what it would be like to be a professional athlete. Whatever the reason, whether it be fame, money or the chance of ending up a legend, many people have dreamed of that life.
Since I am about 99.999999% sure that my life will not be heading in that direction, I wanted to find out what it's like for someone else. That someone turned out to be a young Swedish hockey prospect, Joakim Nordstrom. He currently plays for the Rockford Ice Hogs, the minor league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. I asked him about getting started in hockey, coming to America, and his hockey future.
A lot of hockey players start young but Joakim started even younger. His dad had been a goaltender when he was growing up, and passed along the love of the game to Joakim. He would follow his older brother to practices and soon started playing himself. His early start helped him stand out among his peers, and led to bigger things.
Joakim started making his way through various levels of Hockey in Sweden. His break came when Rikard Franzen, his one time coach, recruited him to play for AIK in the Swedish Hockey League. This meant a lot to Joakim, having someone believe in him enough to give him a chance on a bigger stage. He went on to play 101 games with the main AIK club, before making the jump to North America.Before leaving Sweden, Joakim was a part of the Swedish national team for the Under-20 World Junior Championship in 2012 in Alberta, Canada. Over six games he tallied four goals and one assist. The biggest of those goals came in the last game of the preliminary round against Russia. Joakim scored the only goal of the game 2:44 into overtime, sending the Swedes to the semifinal. They would go on to win the championship six days later, again beating the Russian team in overtime.
Two weeks after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks took notice of his talent and drafted him in the third round of the entry draft. He would join the Rockford team toward the end of the 2012-13 season, and register three assists in 11 games.
Joakim became one of the surprises of the summer when he made the Hawks roster out of training camp. His debut came in the season opener against the Washington Capitals. His older brother, who let Joakim tag along to practices with him, was in attendance to see his little brother play his first NHL game.
It would only take two more games for the first goal. It came at 9:32 of the first period against the Islanders, on a pass from fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson. As is custom in the NHL, Joakim got to keep that special puck but says he hasn't seen it since the night of the game. Apparently it's somewhere in Chicago, and perhaps the Hawks could offer a reward for it's safe return.
When asked about the differences between NHL/AHL hockey and the SHL, he said it's hard to compare them. The ice surface in Sweden is bigger, so the game moves slower and there is more focus on puck possession as opposed to the dump and chase style in North America. As far as comparing the NHL and AHL, he said that one of the bigger differences is the travel schedule. NHL teams fly everywhere, and always the day before a game. In the AHL, teams always travel by bus, and sometimes on the same day as the game.
The casual hockey fan may not know that some fights aren't always about hatred or revenge. Sometimes it's as simple as "hey, wanna go?" That's how Joakim initiated the first fight of his career, against Sam Carrick of the Toronto Marlies. Even though the clip on YouTube may show different, Joakim said he may have picked the wrong player to ask. Carrick is no stranger to the penalty box, and was more than happy to oblige.
Looking ahead to the future, Joakim hopes to play a full season with the Blackhawks next year, and believes he can play at that level. He takes pride in having a good plus/minus rating, and that would certainly help him stay with the big club. Considering no one expected him to make the team out of training camp this season, anything is possible.