By Elizabeth Casey
Moving more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 23 would be a daunting prospect for most, but Chicago Wolves left wing Fredrik Pettersson is perfectly ok with the idea.
The native of Gothenburg, Sweden, didn’t waste much time contemplating potential homesickness when given a shot to play in North America, and as the Wolves barrel down the final stretch of the regular season, he is proving that he is very much at home in the American Hockey League.
“When I got offered a contract, obviously I wanted to take a shot to go to the NHL. The decision was not hard for me,” he said. “I just wanted to take the chance to come here and play.”
The speedy forward, who spent the last three seasons with Vastra Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, already had garnered a head start on the transition to North America, having left Sweden at the age of 18 to play two seasons of junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. It was then that he tackled arguably the most daunting part of an international move: the language barrier.
“We study English from the first grade in Sweden, but it wasn’t one of my best subjects in school,” he laughed. “When I went to Calgary, I was by myself. I lived with a host family and a couple other players, but I had no Swedes to talk to, so the only way for me was to learn to speak English. It took me a few months before it really worked out and then after that I got better and better.”
The place where Pettersson was confronted with the greatest adjustment upon arrival in Chicago was on the ice.
“First of all, the hockey is played on a smaller ice surface here. It goes a lot faster and the game is more physical than it is in Europe,” he said. “Then you’ve got the fights – we’re not allowed to fight in Europe – and I kind of like that. I think it can bring something more to the game.
“In the AHL, my role has been a lot different than it was in Sweden,” he said. “It took me a little bit to get into it when I first got here. It was a new system, but I think after 15-20 games, it started to go a lot better. My defensive game has improved a lot over the year, I’ve played a lot on the penalty kill and I think it worked out really well so I’m happy with that. Lately, I feel like I’ve been playing really well I think I’ve just got to keep it up and play my game here and put up some points here in the last few games.”
Wolves General Manager Wendell Young agrees that Pettersson has made the adjustment from the European game this season.
“He’s learned to play within the North American system,” he said. “He needed to learn to play on his side of the ice instead of using the whole ice surface as his own, and he has done that.”
“Even though we’ve worked on his on-ice stuff, we’re still working on his wardrobe,” Young joked of the stylish Swede. “He says we have no style over here.”
Coming from the Swedish league, which features 12 teams, the farthest from Gothenburg of which is less than 900 miles, Pettersson also found the travel in the 30-team AHL to be a noticeable difference – though not necessarily a bad one.
“The trips in Sweden are much shorter. We drive to the game and usually come back the same night,” he said. “Here, you can be on the road for two weeks sometimes. In Sweden, the maximum you’d be on the road at a time is like two days, and it doesn’t happen that often. So, the traveling here is a little bit worse, but I think it can be good for the team to come together when you’re on the road for longer periods of time.”
When he’s not on the road, taking in new parts of North America, from Austin, Texas, to Abbotsford, British Columbia, Pettersson has a reminder of Sweden waiting for him at home in the form of his roommate, fellow Swede, Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg.
“We’ve known each other a long time. We’re from the same hometown, Gothenburg, and we used to play together when we were like 10 to 14 years old,” Pettersson said. “He went to college while I was playing in Calgary and Sweden, so we didn’t see each other for three or four years, but then last summer we worked out together and it was an easy decision to live together in Chicago.”
“I love Chicago, it’s a great city,” he added. “There are a lot of good stores and I like to shop. There are a lot of friendly people and I just like that there are a lot of people around walking down the street. It is really nice to live downtown in Chicago, especially with my friend.”
While he admits that he is still working on getting Stalberg out to a Wolves game, several of his other Swedish friends have put in significant time at the Allstate Arena.
“I’ve had a few friends over from Sweden. They came here to visit me, so they kind of followed us everywhere,” he laughed. “They went to Milwaukee for games and they went with me to every practice. We had a really good time. I showed them Chicago and we went to outlet stores. Right now, it’s really cheap for Swedish people to come here because the dollar is low, so they wanted to shop a lot.”
Even as well adjusted as Pettersson is to his new Chicago lifestyle, he does admit to missing one thing.
“I miss the food,” he said without hesitation. “There is a lot of the same food here, it just doesn’t feel as healthy. If you go to a grocery store, even one of the nicer grocery stores, you buy milk and it’s good for a month. In Sweden, we buy milk and its good for three to five days and you have to throw it out. You can just feel how much chemicals are in everything you put in your body here. Everything is a lot fresher there.”
Processed food aside, Pettersson has found his stride with the Wolves in the latter part of the season. He racked up 10 points (4G, 6A) in 15 games from Jan. 22 to Feb. 26, after tallying just six points in his previous 15 games, but individual performances aren’t the focus this time of year, when the playoff picture becomes clearer by the day. Listening to his assessment of what the team needs to do moving forward, it is clear the forward is right at home with the playoff-minded Wolves.
“Every point here is really important. We just have to play as a team - play together and really play for each other,” Pettersson said. “We can’t think too much out there, we’ve just got to go out and play and play hard. We have to stick with our game plan and do what we’re supposed to do, and when we do that, we always win. It’s the times when we don’t stick to it and we don’t do what we’re supposed to do that is the problem. Discipline, work ethic and emotion are three big things for us."