When Trevor Timmins said in his post-draft scrum that Mattias Norlinder wouldn’t be at the Montreal Canadiens’ development camp in Brossard this week due to an injury, you could almost hear the sharp intake of air across the Atlantic. Norlinder himself sounds a bit embarrassed, and quite a bit low.
”I am not as upset with myself as I was a couple of days ago. Things have started to calm down. It was such a stupid mistake. I was in the gym doing weights and I slipped and braced myself with the hand. It felt like I twisted it, so I thought nothing of it. When we went to the hospital and got an x-ray, it showed a fracture of the scaphoid bone. Now I am here with plaster and a bruised ego.
“At least no surgery was required.” Norlinder continues. “It wasn’t the best summer to do it either, but at least it’s better to hurt your hand than your leg.”
After a successful season last year, when Mattias moved effortlessly from Modo’s U20 team to the senior team, it was this summer that he needed to build up to really take the next step. “The transition to the senior team was okay. I did my thing. They are a bit bigger and stronger, but I think I did good.”
After addressing the injury news, our conversation turns to his style of play. “I am a two-way defender. I like to join the rush. I like to challenge the defender to do the unexpected thing. While I am not the biggest or strongest, I play with the stick and my head to control the defensive zone. My hockey sense helps me to be in the right position for defence.”
When he moved to the senior team, he was almost always paired with NHL veteran Tobias Enström. “It seems I played every minute with him. I learned so much. We didn’t hang out much outside hockey — there is a slight age gap — but you learn from him by watching him every day, on the ice, in the gym, and you see what it takes to succeed.”
When asked what he needs to focus on improving this upcoming season, Norlinder replied, “I need to get more of the details right in my game and I need to focus and put in the hours needed to take the next step. I need to show the coach that I deserve the spot I really want. I also need to get better defensively. Then all the classic things, it will sound boring but I need to get bigger and stronger.
“But also, I can’t stop practising what I am good at. I will need to become more selfish. I need to take the shot rather than look for a nice setup pass, even if I actually like a good pass more.”
When it comes to players that Norlinder looks to as inspirations, he mentions Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman, before mentioning a bit of an upset. “Sidney Crosby, too, since I played centre as a kid. Actually, it’s kind of common. Many that play defence now have played centre before.”
“On a personal level, I am happy I did that. I learned a lot. Both understanding the game but also to get the puck-handing and control that is needed and that I benefit from now.”
Many have spoken with Norlinder about his injury, but Montreal got to hear about it directly when they spoke with him after the draft. “Montreal called me the same night [at the draft]. We spoke a bit about the injury, but there wasn’t any need to cross the Atlantic for a medical. I had been x-rayed and the plaster was on. It was a fracture, but it wasn’t a break. If it was, I might have gone over. Everything was sorted here, it was aligned, I am in a cast and it has already started to heal, so there was no need.”
Norlinder was on the first roster for the Plymouth, Michigan tournament for team Sweden, a position he has since had to decline. When he spoke with national team coach Thomas Montén, he got some kind words and something positive to take with him.
“He said it was better that I broke the hand now than just before the WJC. He thinks I am an interesting player and there are other tournaments coming up before the big show.” It seems that Norlinder still has a great chance to make team Sweden for the WJC in Czech Republic.