In the 1960's the British Invasion came to America in the form of the Beatles. In 2016 a new invasion has come to the desert southwest in form of the Swedish Invasion of talented hockey players that are making their mark at Arizona State University, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The three Swedish born college hockey players are Sun Devil defenseman Jakob Stridsberg, and Skatin' Rebels forward Viktor Brask and goaltender Erik Eidissen. While the three are at various stages of their careers, they are all making an impact with their teams and enjoying playing the game they love in the United States.
Living in a foreign country can often times be very difficult, however with hockey as their inspiration and motivation, the three players have adapted well to their new surroundings. All three began playing in the junior ranks in the U.S. and have now progressed to the NCAA D1 level for Stridsberg and the ACHA D2 level for Brask and Eidissen. While playing in the junior ranks all three had enjoyed success with Stridsberg winning a North American Hockey League Robertson Cup Championship with Fairbanks last season, while Brask and Eidissen won a National Junior College Championship with Dakota College in Bottineau, ND last season.
For Stridsberg, a Jonkoping, Sweden native his first year in the desert southwest as been a steady rise to the top of the Sun Devils defensive corps, while competing against some of the best teams college hockey has to offer. "I am really enjoying ASU, the school is really good and our team is getting better," said Stridsberg following a recent practice. "To be a part of the tradition we are building is a big reason why I came here, but the school is very good too and a good education is important."
Despite the Sun Devils tough schedule to start the season, Stridsberg scored his first collegiate goal against Notre Dame during the first series of the year and is currently sitting at four goals and on assist on the season through 17 games.
The Swedish Invasion In The Desert SW...How Swede It Is!
Brask, the Sigtuna, Sweden native is a big physical forward that is adapting and enjoying the style of play in the U.S. for the most part. "The style of play here is quite different from Sweden," admitted Brask. "In Sweden, it is all about systems, but here it is just shoot the puck and go to the net," said Brask with a huge smile on his face. At 6'1" and 215 pounds, Brask is an imposing figure around the net and has a knack for finding the back of the net, something he has done 20 times in the Skatin Rebels first 23 games.
Eidissen is from Stockholm, Sweden and has perhaps had the most challenging time adjusting to hockey in theU.S. because he is a goalie and was faced with learning to play new angles due to the size difference between National hockey League rinks in the U.S. as opposed to the International rinks in Sweden. The extra 15 feet of width on the International rinks makes a big difference and Eidissen says when he first arrived in the U.S. three seasons ago that was definitely an issue, however now the adjustment has become natural. "I would say the angles are quite a bit different here, but I have learned to play them better now and it is not that big of a deal," said Eidissen. With 12 games under his belt at UNLV, Eidissen is feeling more comfortable and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead, boasting a 9-3 record and 2.50 goals against average through the first semester of play.
The Sun Devils and Stridsberg are looking to continue to grow and get better with a ultimate goal of a NCAA National Championship at least a few years from reality. However for Brask and Eidissen their opportunity to win a ACHA D2 National Championship is clearly in sight after posting an impressive 20-3 start through the first semester of the season. "We have to continue to get better everyday and I think we are doing that," said Stridsberg. "We know this a very difficult schedule against the best college hockey players."
While hockey comes naturally to all three, they have all also adapted well to playing thousands of miles from home, including the American lifestyle. "At first it was a little difficult with the language, I didn't speak a lot, but now I feel pretty comfortable talking to people," said Eidissen. "I think I realized that people here (in America) really didn't care that much if I was saying things wrong." "We learn English in grade three in Sweden so we know the basics pretty well, but it is different than just talking to people," added Eidissen.
For Brask the biggest difference he has found in the U.S. that is different form Sweden is the amount of fast food restaurants. "In the U.S. there are fast food places on every corner, which is quite different from where I grew up in Sweden," said Brask. "Erik grew up in a more urban area, near Stockholm so maybe it was not so different from him, but for me it is very different."
Stridsberg says the warm to hot weather has been the biggest difference to him. "The weather is very different here than Sweden, but I like it," said Stridsberg. "We don't get a lot of time with practice and school to do much else but I like it."
All three are in agreement in one thing playing hockey and getting an education in the United States is truly a great opportunity and all three intend to make the most of it. The Swedish Invasion is in full force in the desert southwest and visible at a hockey rink near you.
By Scott A. Strande, Senior Writer