CSKA's Swedish goaltender Lars Johansson spoke to KHL.ru of his progress as a goalie, of fighting for a place with Ilya Sorokin, and of the other great goalies his nation has produced.

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“Sorokin is a huge talent; one of the finest in Europe”

- How well are you adjusting to the KHL?

- It has been good right from the start - coming to a league which has some really skilful players. It is great to be here, and we have a very good team. Naturally, it has taken me a while to adapt to everything, but the guys have been great, and I feel I'm advancing one step at a time. It is easier to play in a good team, so in every game you have a chance to win.

- Are you happy with your ice time?

- Absolutely. I 'm competing for a place with Sorokin, one of the best goalies in Europe. I had no prior expectations. There is only one thing on my mind: every time I hit the ice I must be at my best.

- Does fighting for a place with Sorokin help you evaluate your own level as a goalie?

- It always good to compete. I'm almost ten years older than he is, but I can still learn a lot from him. He has great technique, and every practice session brings out the best in me.

- Were you as good at his age?

- No, not even close. I played in the second-tier league in Sweden. He is a huge talent, and if he keeps on the way he is going, he will go a long way.

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“Fasth is a good role model for me”

- Why is it that many Swedish goalies do not arrive at the top level until they are in their mid-20s?

- It takes a little bit longer, as few of us get drafted at 18 or 19. There are many good goalies in Sweden, but it  is rare for them to end up at an NHL club at the age of 20. I do not really know much about the coaching methods in Russia, but in Sweden we pay a lot of attention to our goalies.

- And you left Sweden at 29, Markus Svensson, now at Spartak, played in Sweden until he was 32, and Viktor Fasth moved to the NHL at 30.

- We are old-fashioned goalies. The first time I had a goalie coach was when I was 15. It took me a while to attain the skill set I'd been lacking. Fasth is a fine example. He shows that if you keep trying and working hard, it is never too late to improve. He is a good role model for me. If you are 28, it doesn't mean you should stagnate. You can still become better and better.

- And now you’re playing for Fasth’s former team.

- Yes, I spoke to him about it. The players in the team said he was a great guy.

- You are working with goalie coach Konstantin Vlasov. What can you tell us about him?

- He has such tremendous energy, he wants to do all he can, and he really wants us to improve. Every day we put in extra work on even the smallest details. For me, after a tough year in North America, I just needed to work very hard. It builds confidence.

- Any problems with communication?

- His English is getting better and better, but my Russian is not progressing as fast. We haven't had any problems with communications, so that's not an issue. I am learning the short, important words.

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“Kaprizov has scored so many goals against me in training”

- CSKA is a very big club. What had you heard about the Army Men before this season?

- I had actually played against CSKA; it was ten years ago, when they had a camp in Sweden. I cannot remember all the details, but I allowed eight goals. It is the biggest club in Europe, because of the trophies, reputation, and all the great players who have worn the jersey. It is interesting being part of a team that is always pushing to win as much as possible.

- You are in competition with one of the best goalies in Europe, and in training, you face one of the finest young players in the world in Kirill Kaprizov.

- He has scored so many goals against me in training! We have a great many talented guys in the team, so you cannot take it easy in practice, not even for one day. It is a pleasure to see how these young players strive every day to get even better.

- Is it a big factor, playing for a team which is a contender?

- It is better than last year, in the AHL, as Rockford was having a bad season. In Sweden, I played for a strong team, and it is more exciting to play for a contender because you must try even harder to win every game.

- Please tell us about your decision to go to North America last year.

- I dreamed when I was young about playing in the NHL. I got the chance and wanted to take it. Sadly, it didn’t go very well, but at least I tried. I had been playing in Sweden for a long time, and I wanted to try something harder, to grow as a person, and to see more of the world. I think I learned a lot by living far away from my family. I feel more confident now in Moscow. It taught me to take more responsibility away from the ice, and to solve my own problems.

- In the AHL you played with another ex-CSKA man, Jeff Glass.

- I know he played for CSKA, yes. He is a great guy. He only appeared in a handful of end-of-season games for CSKA a few years back, but he has a lot of experience of playing in Russia. I didn't ask him about my new challenge, however, because I didn't yet know where I was headed.

- In Sweden you played for Frolunda, which is said to have one of the best hockey set-ups in Europe.

- From my experience, yes, they have a great organization, a great youth development program, and good coaches. They give you every chance to become a better hockey player. Even I learnt a lot, and I was 26 when I moved there. Now they have Rasmus Dahlin, but in my time I played with Alexander Wennberg and John Klingberg. Every year, Frolunda players take great steps forward, often to the NHL.

- Do you expect that head coach Roger Ronnberg will make such a step forward one day?

- Roger is a good specialist. He loves hockey, and it seems he watches the game all the time, and that has brought him a lot of success. Maybe, one day, he'll decide he should come to the KHL.

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“It is the dream of every player to go to the Olympics”

- Is your family with you in Russia?

- They have been staying with me in Russia. Right now they’re back in Sweden, but they’ll return in a couple of days. It’s pretty easy to travel between Sweden and Russia. When I'm on a road trip, the family go back home. It’s nice to have them here. Moscow is a good city, with a lot of things for the children to do.

- We heard that you only recently got married, during the summer.

- Yes, I got married this summer.

- But you have children. Why did you wait so long?

- I don’t know. Is it just the Swedish way? We were in no rush to get married. We just waited until the right moment.

- What about your chances of going to the Olympics?

- I didn’t really think much about it when I decided to move to Russia, but now there is a real possibility, and it's the dream of every player. I am focussing on my own hockey, here, and then we’ll see if I have a chance. There are some great Swedish goalies, such as Viktor Fasth, plus the other guys in the KHL.

- Is there any rivalry between the Swedish goalies here?

- I haven’t yet played against any of the Swedish goalies, so I’m waiting for that. It’s good that Swedish goaltenders are doing so well in the KHL, and yes, it also puts pressure on me to play better. It’s a win-win situation.

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“Hasek went for every puck and would never give up”

- Why did you decide to become a goalie?

- I started playing hockey when I was seven or eight, and we were all given a turn as a goalie. I really enjoyed it, and besides, I was not very good as a skater.

- Could you name your childhood heroes?

- Dominik Hasek was my favorite, of course. He was always pulling out spectacular saves, and I liked his style. He went for every puck and he never gave up. When I was older, I also admired Henrik Lundqvist, the King of New York. It was great for me to find myself at Frolunda, his former team, playing with his brother, and occasionally in the summer I was lucky enough to train with the man himself.

- Who are the best players with whom you have played?

- I enjoyed my rivalry with goalie Johan Gustafsson in my last year in Frolunda. He came from the Minnesota Wild organization. He had such a great attitude, and we became close friends. We won the Swedish Championship together.

- And now at CSKA you are training with one of the best.

- I relish every day of training at CSKA.

- Is it a problem during the mid-season breaks, when there are fewer players to practice with?

- I was even wondering whether we would get any practice at all. About 18 of our players were away on national team duty, so we had to make do with small groups of five or six players.

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Lars Johansson Fact File:
Born: 11-07-1987, in Avesta (Sweden)
Career: 2007-2011 – Mora IK (Sweden), 2011-2013 – VIK Vasteras (Sweden), 2013-2016 – Frolunda (Sweden), 2016-2017 – Rockford IceHogs (AHL), 2017 - CSKA
Honors: Champion of Sweden (2016), Champions' League winner (2016).

Richard Delacy, Roman Solovyov,
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Related clubs

CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)

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