Victor Hedman has essentially only known two teams in his entire hockey career, which is almost unheard of for a 25-year-old NHLer.
The talented defenceman has played his entire NHL tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning and spent his entire junior career developing in the MoDo system in his native Sweden. (He also played 26 games for Astana Barys in the KHL during the 2012 NHL lockout but let’s just ignore that.)
“The Lightning are only the second hockey team I’ve been on in my entire life. I played with the same team from the time I was six years old until I was 18 years old, when I got on a plane and came to play in the NHL,” Hedman wrote in The Players’ Tribune Wednesday. “For most of my childhood, I more or less played with the same friends from my neighborhood.”
The MoDo hockey club based out of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden is where Hedman honed his skills as a youngster. In fact, over the years, that city and program has produced NHL stars such as Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins among others.
“Many people like to ask, how can a little town of 30,000 people produce Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, the Sedins and, even going way back, Anders Hedberg?," Hedman wrote. "When I got to the NHL, my Canadian teammates would ask, ‘What’s going on up there? What are you guys eating?’”
Hedman touched on a variety of topics in his post, including: listening to Team Sweden win the 2006 Olympic gold medal on a radio while travelling on a Modo team bus, his father working for the team, the culture shock he felt in his early days with Tampa, getting schooled by Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier at Lightning practices and sharing NHL ice with his idols.
Hedman also pointed out some major differences between how things are done in Sweden compared to hockey in North America.
From The Players' Tribune:
“I hear stories about youth hockey in America and Canada, and kids jumping around from team to team. There’s all kinds of travel teams you have to try out for, and expensive camps, and coaches to impress. But in Sweden, it’s more of a family atmosphere. At least when I was young. I know it has changed a bit lately. Until I was 14, there were no ‘tryouts.’ If you’re born in O-vik, you play for MoDo or one of the other local teams. In fact, the Sedin twins and Markus Naslund played for a team called Järved, on an outdoor rink. There are different levels, but you are never cut. When people talk about Swedish hockey, they often mention the ‘chemistry’ of the players. But really, it’s a total philosophy of community that starts when you’re young…
“As kids, we dreamed of being able to skate and pass like [NHL stars], but what’s different is that I don’t ever remember any pressure to make it to the NHL, or even the Swedish Elite League. Certainly not from my parents. They just wanted me to have fun. So when I think about the magic of Swedish hockey, I think of one word: fun…
“Maybe it’s because physicality is not as big a part of the game in Sweden, or maybe it’s because there’s not the stress of tryouts, but I just remember hockey being so much fun.”