It’s a relaxed and happy Mattias Norlinder who stays long after practice to work on connecting with a player for a tip-in. He gets the tip nine out of 10 tries and is all smiles afterward. He cracks a joke about being the last one on the team and having to pick pucks up after practice with the juniors again.
Make no mistake, he is happy to be back with Frölunda and the target is clear.
“The CHL (Champions Hockey League) title and the Swedish championship is why I am here, with the championship being more important,” he said in an exclusive interview with Eyes On The Prize.
However, when we turn back the focus on his time with the Montreal Canadiens, the prospect has a lot of things to say.
“It was damn fun, especially the first couple of games,” he said. “The camp was a great experience.”
It is clear that it is not just something he is saying because he has to. Norlinder smiles and he sounds happy when he thinks back on the experience.
“In order to make it next year you have to realize that this time everything was new, I didn’t have that extreme confidence that you need to succeed,” he said. “I do take some things back with me, especially the style of play they have in NHL. It is different and I feel like I picked it up. I got better with time.”
There is always talk about rink size and so on, but Norlinder mentions another thing that he thought was more important. “You have to play safe more times than I am used to. To chip in the puck, play the simple game, to not make a mistake on the offensive blue line. I also need to get better around our own net; stronger, more physical.”
Speaking about it, it is clear that there are good things to remember.
“The NHL was a fantastic experience, we lost 6-0 but ... yes, it was great. The fans, the building.”
“Still, it was a weird season. Nothing went as they wanted. The GM got fired ... it was special, a special situation. You understand [their line of thinking], and as I said when I got to play in the NHL, it was so much fun.”
The difference seems to have been with his assignment to the AHL. Norlinder tries to explain it.
“First and foremost, I didn’t even know I could play in that league. The first was a conditioning stint, I get that,” he said. “It is such a big difference from the NHL, more of a chip-and-run kind of play, more of a broken kind of play.”
It is not a time that Norlinder wants to dwell on. He changes the topic back to the NHL experience. “I thought I learned a lot. Before going back next year, my physique and balance need to get better. How to control the gap when the ice becomes smaller.”
Norlinder rues the cancellation of the Spengler Cup. Frölunda was about to board the bus for the airport when the cancellation notice came. He was clearly looking forward to another tournament. Also, this means that coach Roger Rönnberg has put in some extra tough practices this week, something that should benefit the team come playoff time.
When asked about Montreal, his answer is clear:
“I’ll be back!”