TORONTO – Frederik Andersen’s parents, Ernst and Charlotte, took a couple hours off work when Mike Babcock came calling this summer. They picked up baked Danishes to serve with the coffee – "a little taste of Denmark," says Andersen – and leaned in close when the conversation shifted from casual to serious.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the Toronto Maple Leafs coach had come for more than the pastries and a breezy chat.
There was a message for their son, too.
"I think he wanted to just include them on what his plan was," Andersen said in an interview. "He wanted [to share] some things I should work on, and it was a good way of including the parents. I think when we’re in the NHL maybe you don’t use your parents as much anymore.
"When I was younger my dad was right there – he was my goalie coach, basically – so I think that’s something where he felt more included in my development still."
That this conversation came immediately after a season where Andersen finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting is not to be overlooked. At home in Herning, that’s rightly viewed as a remarkable achievement for the only goaltender ever to reach the NHL out of Denmark. A guy who once endured a 10-1 beating at the world junior tournament, and was twice passed over in the draft, and had to re-enter it a second time even after eventually getting picked.
However, as far down the path as Andersen’s come, Babcock spoke about what more lays out there for him on the horizon. He’s already proven beyond doubt that he’s a bonafide NHL starter over his first two years in Toronto and made big strides in conditioning, but still has another level to reach inside the team.
"You’ve got to lead in all areas," said Babcock. "In fitness, in mental toughness, in practice habits and everything you do, and I think Freddie’s committed to that. When I met with him and his family this summer in his home it was very impressive, to say the least, just how badly he wants to have success and how hard he’s willing to work."
Whether it translates to better results should be apparent soon. Andersen, who celebrates his 29th birthday on Tuesday before starting Wednesday’s regular-season opener against Montreal, could make as many as 11 appearances in the opening month. That’s a mental hurdle for him to clear since two of his worst three months statistically as a Leaf came in October 2016 (.876 save percentage) and October 2017 (.896).
At least he should be in a good frame of mind after finishing off a tidy pre-season with a .931 save percentage. It was compiled over a tiny sample of 200 minutes, against rosters of varying quality, but given a choice you’d much rather see your No. 1 in that kind of form entering the regular season than searching for something.
"You hope he’s ready to go. He looks good," Babcock said over the weekend. "Real games and real bullets start flying right away here and then we’ll see how we all do."
Andersen is shouldering a big load with Stanley Cup dreams being spoken of openly in Toronto. For as much as the debate has raged through training camp about whether Curtis McElhinney or Garret Sparks will win the job behind him, there’s been no indication Andersen will be called on to play any less frequently.
No NHL goaltender has faced more shots than he has while making 132 appearances over the last two seasons. There was an undeniable dip in Andersen’s play last March and it didn’t get much better in the playoffs, when he endured a couple rough outings during the seven-game series loss to Boston.
Fortunately, he’s learned not to carry around the burden of those kind of disappointments like he once did. He let it go.
"You give it your all in the situation and for us it wasn’t enough," said Andersen. "We were close to coming back and winning that series [after a 2-0 deficit], it’s pretty obvious that I haven’t forgotten about it. You just want to bring it with you and learn from it, I think. You don’t want to wash it away because you can’t wash away history.
The first-round playoff exit made it possible for Andersen to return home for the IIHF World Hockey Championship, which was held in Denmark for the first time. He finished on a high with some memorable performances while playing in front of friends and family in his home arena.
That’s also when Babcock made the trek to his childhood home for a visit much-less publicized than the one the coach had with Auston Matthews. It left a big impression on the big goaltender, who called the two-hour chat "really cool."
"It’s something you wouldn’t expect many coaches to do," said Andersen. "He thought it was important just to try to get to know people better, get to know the families, see their homes – that was pretty cool for me too, for him to see where we grew up.
"As a player and coach you don’t normally interact too much outside of the rink."
They’re hoping a little more understanding can go a long way.