VANCOUVER – The first time Patrik Allvin came to Vancouver, he was visiting his friend, Johan Hedberg, who was the Canucks’ backup goalie for most of the 2003-04 season.
A European scout with the Montreal Canadiens at the time, Allvin had grown up with Hedberg in Sweden, in Leksand, and became the godfather to the National Hockey League player’s children. On one of his visits to the rink with Hedberg, Allvin ran into a couple of young brothers from Sweden, Canucks Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
He also knew through scouting circles Thomas Gradin and Lars Lindgren, Vancouver scouts who had helped establish the pipeline for Swedish players getting to the NHL when they joined the Canucks in the 1970s.
Years passed and a lot happened to everyone before Allvin and the Sedins got to know each other last week over lunch in Vancouver, after Allvin had interviewed with Canucks president Jim Rutherford for the general manager position. The Sedins work in hockey operations as special advisors.
Inside Rogers Arena, Allvin would have been able to see the Sedins’ retired numbers, 22 and 33, and names hanging on banners from the ceiling, not far from the No. 19 of another Swede, Markus Naslund. In the Ring of Honour below them are the names and faces of Gradin and defenceman Mattias Ohlund.
But none of these Swedes, not even the iconic Sedins, conveyed to Allvin the magnitude of what he was about to do.
“Yesterday I was speaking to Billy Guerin, my good friend,” Allvin told Sportsnet on Wednesday, referring to the Minnesota Wild general manager. “He was like: ‘This is amazing. Like, think about it: You're going to be the first Swedish-born general manager of an NHL team.’
“I reflected on that, and obviously I'm proud to accomplish that. But I got a question if this was the biggest day of my hockey career. And to be honest, winning the Stanley Cup, that's what matters for me. Yes, this is a big day for me and my family and hockey in Sweden. That's great. (But) I think it would be even bigger for me to win again.”
Allvin, 47, was named general manager of the Canucks by Rutherford, his old mentor with whom Allvin won two of his three Stanley Cups. And although Allvin is the first Swedish GM in NHL history, hiring him seems natural for a Canucks organization that has been a North American stronghold for Swedish players almost continuously for nearly five decades.
The hire also perfectly fits Rutherford’s vision, his fascinating experiment, to build a kind of hockey-operations Camelot by bringing together smart people whose journeys through hockey have been varied enough to guarantee differing opinions and perhaps some new ideas.
Chosen by Rutherford from the five finalists brought to Vancouver for in-person interviews – Scott Mellanby, Sean Burke, Mathieu Darche and Canucks assistant GM Derek Clancy were the others – Allvin will join the team in Winnipeg for the start of Vancouver’s four-game road trip Thursday against the Jets.
This was something the undrafted Swede never envisioned when he moved to North America at age 20 to try to build a playing career from the lower tiers of North American professional hockey.
Allvin was a tough defenceman. He had to be.
“It was hard to be a European down in the minors back then,” he said. “I remember that for sure.
“Growing up there in the town of Leksand, we all dreamed about becoming NHL players. I wasn't good enough to get drafted, but I still wanted to give it a try. And I learned a lot, you know, being young. Being in that environment, living in a different country and teaching myself to learn how to compete and learn how to deal with a different culture, I thought it was a great experience.”
Allvin’s ECHL roommate with the old Nashville Knights was a long-haired kid from Ponoka, Alta., named Harry York.
“I think we were in Mobile, Alabama one night and Harry got a call to go up to St. Louis' (AHL) farm team,” Allvin recalled. “I told him that I didn't want to see him anymore, and he ended up working his way up to NHL.”
The same age as Allvin and also undrafted, York played 244 games in the NHL, the last 103 of them for the Canucks at the end of the last century. Allvin never got close, and retired as a player in 2002 after spending his final five seasons in Sweden.
He got a part-time scouting job with the Canadiens that year, then became a full-time European scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006. Over 16 years, he graduated to head European scout, then director of amateur scouting and in 2020 was named an assistant GM by Rutherford, who had joined the Penguins as general manager in 2014.
Allvin was briefly the Penguins’ interim GM when Rutherford abruptly re-signed in Pittsburgh one year ago on Thursday. The Canucks hired him on Dec. 9, four days after general manager Jim Benning was dismissed.
“I don't want it to sound like Patrik got the job because he was the guy that I knew the best,” Rutherford told Sportsnet. “Certainly the other candidates were very capable people and I could have worked with them also.
“All the interviews were very good -- very, very good. All five candidate. But Patrik did stand out. He's a very smart guy, he knows players, he knows how to evaluate players. He knows how to find players. He's well connected in Europe. He has a lot of good things going for him and, like I said, we already have the working relationship. We know how that's going to go.”
Allvin said several times during his Zoom press conference that he’d like to find more free agents out of Europe and U.S. college hockey. He wants to draft NHL players beyond the first round, build organizational depth and turn the Canucks’ minor-league team in Abbotsford into a factory for NHLers.
“One year in Pittsburgh, I think we ended up with five or six players that started the season in Wilkes-Barre (in the American Hockey League) and they ended up with their names on the Stanley Cup,” Allvin said.
Rutherford said he was a little surprised it took so long for there to be a Swedish GM in the NHL.
“There's been a lot of good hockey people around the world,” he said. “But they're a little bit removed from North America where the NHL plays, and sometimes they've gotten overlooked in the past. But now we're starting to go in that direction. You've got Jarmo (Kekalainen, a Finn) in Columbus, who's done a good job, and now we've got Patrik here in Vancouver. You'll probably see a little more of that in the future.”
Allvin didn’t move to North America until 2018 when his kids, he said, “didn’t speak a word of English.”
But Agnes, 15, and Adam, 13, are now so happy and settled in school that they’re going to stay in Pittsburgh with their mother, Marie, for the rest of this season.
Allvin believes he first became aware of the Canucks when Per-Olov Brasar, who is from near his home town, played for the Canucks at the start of the 1980s.
The current Vancouver roster includes Swedish players Elias Pettersson, Nils Hoglander and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“I remember meeting a 17-year-old, tiny kid for lunch in Sundsvall, Sweden,” Allvin said, referring to Pettersson and his draft year in 2017. “I think he had schnitzel and was going to buy a draft suit after.
“Obviously, he's a high-talented player. I still think there's a lot of room for him to grow, and I'm pretty sure that he has even more potential to become a better player, a better leader. . . with more maturity and guidance here in the next couple of years.”
It was remarkable that Allvin could remember what Pettersson ate for lunch five years ago.
He should be able to tell us, then, what the Sedins ordered last week.
“They’re in such great shape,” Allvin said. “I think it was salads.”
Right again, Henrik confirmed.