Yesterday afternoon I went down to the local arena and poked my head in to the training camp for the Swedish team as they prepare for the World Junior Championships. It was a typical practice though they were using some rather...unconventional drills.
After the team got off the ice I chatted with some of the players, and Media Manager Andreas Spångberg. Andreas said that the team was enjoying their time in Niagara, everyone was treating them very well, except it was a little too quiet at the rink. As the practices were held during working and school hours the stands were empty, aside from me, a Leafs fan waiting for a selfie with Timothy Liljegren (she got it!), and a Brock student who was kicked out of the shinny game on the other rink.
After practice, I spoke with Timothy Liljegren about the Marlies, transitioning to the AHL (and the Jake Dotchins of the world), and I annoyed him with pleas to come play for the Niagara IceDogs.
PPP: This is your second trip to Niagara this year. You’re here an awful lot this year, are you enjoying your time here?
Liljegren: Yeah, Canada’s a beautiful country. Niagara with Niagara Falls is pretty awesome. Toronto too is a really nice city.
PPP: Is it beautiful enough to want to stay here for the rest of the OHL season?
Liljegren: [grinning] No, I’m done with junior hockey.
PPP: Is the transition from the SHL to AHL going well? Are you noticing a difference in style of play or the opponents?
Liljegren: I think the level is pretty similar. Obviously it’s different because of the ice surface, but I think the transition went well. I felt that at training camp it was hard at first, but after a couple games with the Marlies I felt as good as I did in Sweden.
PPP: The AHL can tend to be a place to dump players who are a bit to...rough...for the NHL. They seem to want to make a name for themselves down there, we saw that with Jake Dotchin last year going after Kasperi Kapanen and Frederik Gauthier, have you had any run ins with anyone like that?
Liljegren: There are a couple guys, I don’t remember their names, but I think every team has some of those guys. You just keep your head up and be aware of your surroundings. It’s not that bad.
PPP: The Maple Leafs every generation, they’ll have a top Swedish born player. Borje Salming, Mats Sundin, are you going to be our next one?
Liljegren: [Laughing] I hope so. It’s a lot of pressure to live up to those names, but I mean, I like Toronto as an organization. I want to be a good player for many years to come. I hope I’ll have the development that I need to be such a player.
PPP: Are you rooming with anyone in Toronto?
Liljegren: No, I’m on my own. It’s not difficult for me, I’ve been living on my own since I was 15, so it’s gone well over here.
PPP: You do seem pretty confident for moving over here and living by yourself that young, I’ve never lived all alone, so that’s impressive to me. Was anything difficult?
Liljegren: Just little things, going to the grocery store, in the beginning. The names are different here than in Sweden, so that was a little hard at first, but you get used to it.
PPP: You won silver two years ago at the U18, bronze at the U17, is this the year you win gold?
Liljegren: I hope so. I think we have a good team, but every country has a good team now. It’s about the small details. I think we have a pretty good chance, but it’s up to us to get those small details.
PPP: Speaking of good teams, the Marlies are on top of the AHL. In fact the record could end up better than two years ago when there was Connor Brown, William Nylander, Zach Hyman on the team - who are all now Maple Leafs. Do you see that as a good trend for every one to make the team sooner?
Liljegren: I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. I mean those guys are great players, so uh, I like to think we have good players on our Marlies too. We’re a young group with some older players, so it’s a lot of competition in practices.
PPP: You mention it’s a young group. Do you think it’s beneficial, just in quicker recovery time in the compressed schedule, more speed..
Liljegren: Yeah I think so, but we also have those older players too, who look out for us and give us advice, we learn from them. I think because of the fact we are a young group and we just push each other for ice time.
PPP: Watching practice there was a drill where you guys were passing the puck over someone on the ice [see above]. It was interesting, but who gets picked to lie there?
Liljegren: I didn’t see that one, I must have been off the ice thankfully. I would hope it’s a volunteer. I think it was just a funny thing they were doing.
PPP: So it’s not punishment for someone sleeping in?
Liljegren:: No, no, no....
PPP: Most of your games in the World Juniors are in the afternoon, noon, 2PM, 4PM, do you think there’s an advantage there?
Liljegren: I think so. It’s important to have time after games to recover, but I think the only time it’s tough when it’s 7PM and the next day is twelve, but most of the guys are used to playing like that., that should be good for the fans.
PPP: Are you happy about not playing in the outdoor game, especially after a blizzard took over the field last week out of nowhere?
Liljegren: It would be pretty cool to play in that outdoor game, but it’s cool that it’s Canada vs the US
PPP: Last night (Wednesday) you beat Denmark 13-1. Was there any thoughts of easing up on the them since they’re still trying to stick with the main group in juniors, or is camp not the time to ease up? Or was that you guys easing up?
Liljegren: It’s Denmark, so you want to play hard against your neighbour. We showed really good, like you said we kept on pushing. That’s a good thing to have as a team. You want to do that against better teams so you don’t play 40 minutes ever, you play 60 minutes always.
PPP: With Norway and Denmark coming up in the hockey world, do you welcome the growth of the Scandinavian hockey powers or would you prefer Sweden and Finland to stay the big kids on the block?
Liljegren: Well, it’s a good thing. Obviously we have a good thing going on with Finland, but I think it will be fun to play against Norway and Denmark.
PPP: With them as stronger competition.
Liljegren: Yeah, exactly.
PPP: Okay, you’re riding the IceDogs bus today, are you sure there’s no way you want to play here? We could use the help....
Liljegren: I’m done with juniors. My development is best with seniors. I’ll stick with the Marlies.
PPP: Well, I had to try.
Sweden has one more pre-tournament game on Friday night at Erie Insurance Arena, in Erie, PA. They’ll be practicing in St. Catharines until Sunday morning when they move to Buffalo for the tournament.