Coming To America
Released in October of 1993, NHL ’94 is the most iconic hockey video game ever released. Men of a certain age can wax nostalgic for hours about the introduction of the one-timer, full goaltender control and team-specific organ songs like they are speaking of a forgotten era in simpler times.
Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin is not in that demographic. He was months old when the games hit and flew off the shelves around the globe.
Twenty years later, Brodin is featured in the most recent release from EA SPORTS, NHL ’14, which also is his favorite game.
Stationed in a Saint Paul hotel for the start of the season, he passes time playing against fellow defenseman Matt Dumba, who wasn’t even born when ’94 was released. The temptation to use themselves in the game or the Wild doesn’t usually come into the conversation.
“We do random teams,” Brodin said. “I’d say we’re pretty even.”
While the updated version allows gamers the ability to play in’94 mode, the throwback settings are a little slow for the blueliners, much like the NHL in the mid-90s.
“It might be cool for some older guys,” Dumba cracked. “For us it would be trying to learn all kinds of new controls so it would be more frustrating than anything.”
What has not been slow is Brodin’s ascension in the National Hockey League. The 20-year-old was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team after leading all first-year blueliners in time on ice.
After breaking onto the scene, and being paired with Norris Trophy finalist Ryan Suter, you’d think Brodin would be a hot commodity coming into this season. However, like many casual observers, the game-makers over at EA SPORTS overlooked the youngster’s mature game, only giving him a 78 rating out of the possible 100. Well, after a hot start that has already seen him surpass his goal total from his rookie season, the Karlstad, Sweden native is making people take notice.
Scandinavia to the States
While Brodin’s transition into the NHL was as smooth as his skating stride, fellow European import Mikael Granlund’s first season wasn’t as easy.
After lighting up the Finnish Elite League for three seasons and arguably scoring Finland’s most famous goal ever, a highlight reel scoop and stuff from behind the net in the semifinal game against Russia at the 2011 World Championships, Granlund reached rock star status in his native country and was an Internet curiosity here in the State of Hockey. Heading into last season, the expectations for the Wild’s first-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft were higher than Mount Halti.
After leading the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros, in scoring during the lockout, Granlund started his NHL career off with a bang, scoring on Opening Night when the Wild resumed play against the Colorado Avalanche. However, the pace of the game was faster than that of the FEL and he was returned to Houston.
“What he had to deal with last year was very difficult,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “With the expectations that were on him, the unfamiliarity with the League, the players around the League, as well as the culture and living away from home. Trying to make those adjustments, all the while, trying to do it without a training camp.
“It was the perfect storm that made it a difficult situation for him.”
After getting his first taste of the NHL, Granlund learned that he needed to improve his skating and strength. Over the summer in Helsinki, he hired a skating coach and hit the gym. He came back faster and more apt to win puck battles along the boards and in difficult areas on the ice.
“It starts with what he learned last year to take the steps and determine to be a better player,” Yeo said. “But credit to him that he’s handled it the right way and he’s come back and continued to look really good this year.”
Adjusting Away from the Rink
When you watch Brodin on the ice, it’s easy to forget he’s not old enough to order a beer with dinner. While the defenseman’s transition into the NHL was as crisp as his breakout passes, coming from his native country of Sweden was a startling experience.
Initially the biggest barrier for Brodin was the language. However, in his second season with the team, he is learning and improving every day.
“I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable this year, more than last year,” Brodin said. “You learn a lot just talking with the guys.”
Granlund feels that the language barrier is the toughest thing to adjust to, as well. But in his second year, he is getting more comfortable speaking English, especially when engaging with fans, which can be daunting.
“I’m more comfortable now,” Granlund said. “It’s more fun to have conversations now because you can really say something.”
Along with the language barriers, there are other parts of being away from home at a young age that can be difficult. Things that most college-aged kids learn while they are in school—like paying bills, figuring out meals and searching for a place to live—Brodin and Granlund are getting used to doing, only they can’t bring their dirty laundry home for the weekend for mom to do.
Wild Captain Mikko Koivu went through a similar move when he came to North America nine years ago, but while you have teammates to support the transition, in the end it’s up to the individual to adjust to life in the States.
“It’s a different culture and everything is basically different when you come overseas,” Koivu said. “I try to help a little bit, but in the end you have to go through that yourself and have those experiences and go through what it’s all about.”
One of those adjustments is getting around in a new home. Both purchased cars last month and, while they might be nicer than your first set of wheels, it was an experience, especially for Brodin who got his drivers license over the summer.
“I asked a some guys like Scandy (Marco Scandella), who knows so much about cars, and a couple of guys to help me,” Brodin said.
While Granlund owns a car in Finland, it was Brodin’s first. Coincidentally, they both purchased the same car, an Audi, with Brodin picking his up about a week earlier than Granlund.
“I have a white one and he has a black one, it’s pretty funny,” Granlund said with a laugh. “We both liked the same car. It’s a good ride.”
While they share the same car, it is not the only trait the two imports have in common. Yeo praised both players as being strong character-type young men that teams hope to select on draft day.
“He’s such a humble guy, I admire him in that sense,” Dumba said of Brodin. “Whatever he does on the ice, once when we are hanging out, we don’t talk too much hockey.”
“He’s a good kid and he appreciates the game. Obviously works hard and there are a lot of good things about him,” Koivu added about Granlund.
When you watch them on the ice day in and day out, and see the way they carry themselves at the rink, it’s easy to forget that Brodin and Granlund are still a couple of guys trying to make their way in the world. At heart, they are still youngsters and the conversations don’t have the serious nature of the Swedish-Finnish-American political landscape.
“It’s not that complicated,” Dumba said. “Just a couple of young guys hanging out.”