In early December, the Kazakhstani club announced to have signed a two-meter tall defenseman, who is now the League’s tallest player. Svedberg was born in West Sweden, in Goteborg. He started playing following his older brother, then also their sister joined him. Anticipating the obvious question about basketball, he said right away: “I tried playing basketball, went to a few practices, but I didn’t like it.” In the end, the only pro hockey players in his family are now Viktor and his sister Karin.
Svedberg plays in the League for only two months, but he was already awarded Best defenseman honors in January. “I’m very satisfied with how things are doing,” Svedberg confirms. “It’s an honor when your efforts are recognized, and you are awarded best player of the month. However, I’m much more impressed by the way the team played in these two months. In early December, many Barys leaders got back from injuries. Thus it was a good test for other players as well. We’re now the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and we’re satisfied. We can’t wait for the last part of the regular season and the playoffs. I don’t have any personal goal, your role within the team is much more important, as well as how much you help the team reaching its own goals.”
Barys’ defensemen are having significant success. Svedberg’s teammate Darren Dietz was honored Best defenseman twice, and for half of the season, the best blueliner came from Astana. “I think that we have a good defensive system in place, that helps the goalie as well,” Svedberg explains when asked about their defense. “Everything depends on the system. If we take Barys at the start of the season, and today’s Barys, you will notice that we allow significantly fewer goals. And how many shutouts Karlsson had this season! It’s this system that allows us to win prizes. If we get away from it, then it happens like what happened during the games against Spartak or Avangard. But you learn from your own mistakes, don’t you?”
Svedberg got back from Europe after spending his last five seasons in North America, being part of the Chicago Blackhawks system. Both he and the team had a clear idea about what to expect from each other. “When we started negotiating, the team already knew what they could expect from me,” the towering defenseman confirms. “They discussed with the scouts and talked with my former coaches. It was clear since the start: I’m a universal player, but mostly a stay-at-home defenseman. Barys has enough offensive defensemen.”
Joining a new team isn’t always easy, players have their own expectative, and teams have them too. In this case, it was a perfect match. “When I join a new team, the most important things for me are to get good chances with the team and that the team wants to see you as a part of it. That you help the team in getting better, and not just close a hole in the lineup. If you can feel all this, you gain confidence. Of course, it’s also important to consider the reputation of the team and their ties with the players. I talked with James Wright before signing; he was delighted with his period in Astana.”
For international players, having countrymates is usually essential, but this wasn’t the case for Svedberg. “Having other two Swedish players in the lineup wasn’t a critical factor in getting to Barys, just a bonus. I would have signed with Barys even if there were no other players from Sweden. Of course, when you have countrymates around, you get acquainted faster, and they can help you in day-to-day issues and other matters.”
For his size alone, Svedberg was often compared to another towering defenseman, Zdeno Chara, who lined up in the KHL in the 2012/2013 season with HC Lev. “It’s logical to compare me to Chara,” Svedberg admits. “Both of us aren’t very small, let’s say. We are of the same height, so it’s something I always get asked about, pretty much like basketball. To be compared to Zdeno Chara is a big honor to me, he’s a great player. He’s 41 now but keeps on playing at an incredibly high level. You can learn a lot from a player like him, just watch him and start taking notes!”
Svedberg’s season started later than usual, and he only signed with Barys in December. Naturally, he didn’t sit on his hands: “I practiced every day, both on the ice and in the gym. I think that I practiced enough for four months, I feel like I never was in better shape,” Svedberg adds with a laugh. “I spent two weeks in the Swedish Hockey League, but the lack of game practice marred my game. I wasn’t worried about my shape; I was only scared about losing a lot of time.”
Being so eager to play, Svedberg was probably thrilled to debut in the KHL right after landing in Astana. “I didn’t understand at first that I was required to play. I knew it when it was just a couple of hours to the game. To be more exact, I landed, got to the arena, addressed a couple of things and went to the hotel. Then, when I was taking a nap, I received a call, and I was told that I was included in the lineup for the upcoming game. So I had to get up, get ready, and go for the game. Everything happened that fast that I couldn’t figure whether it would it be hard or not. I just went on and played; I think that it was the best way to do.”
In his new team, the Swedish blueliner is often paired with veteran defenseman Kevin Dallman, currently at his ninth season in the Kazakhstan capital. Playing with such an expert player is a plus for Svedberg: “He doesn’t tell me how to play, we have a different style, but he helps me on the ice. When you’re new, you need to be supported in your new league. He supported me, and other guys helped me as well.”
If playing a game right after landing wasn’t enough, in his first week Svedberg had to play in the Far East. “It was a great experience,” the defenseman says. “I visited Russia and China for the first time. It was even more interesting, as my visit to Russia started not in a banal way, from Moscow, but one of the most extremes parts of the country. I had the chance to observe two different cultures. It’s always interesting to visit different parts of our world. And for the first time, I had a nine-hour flight.”
Joining a new team means also meeting a new coach. Svedberg seems to be happy with working with Andrei Skabelka. “There are no problems, everything is said in both Russian and English, from time to time Skabelka’s assistant Igor Matushkin explains something in Swedish. Regarding, the methods, the style, the system – each coach has his approach, it does not matter where the coach comes from, that is, there is no clear division. I think the most important difference is the game system, especially in defense, for example, in North America it was different, the system was more focused on the attacking part.”
In January, Barys’ schedule has been pretty hectic as the team played 12 games. However, Svedberg had no problems with it. “It wasn’t hard at all,” Svedberg confirms. “You know, in the AHL you had to play three games in three days without any pause. That was hard, but when you have a day of rest after a game, it’s enough for the body to recover. Frankly, I don’t think about the calendar. I am not in a position to change anything; it’s better to consider how to help the team winning every game.
Recently, Barys clinched a playoffs spot, but things haven’t been more relaxed since then. “Not much changed. Of course, it was pleasant to understand that we’ll get to the playoffs, but think about what our opposition will be: SKA, CSKA, Salavat Yulaev, and other teams. There are no easy games. Moreover, anyone wants to climb up in the standings; there is a lot of competition and teams are separated by a few points only.”
Svedberg played only a couple of months in the KHL, but he has definite ideas about the League. “Generally speaking, I like to play against the best teams. When the battle lasts until the last second, there is a minimal difference in the score, or the game is tied. It’s exciting. It’s harder, but this way you get to improve. Recently, playing against SKA was good, so it was against Salavat Yulaev. Such games are pure adrenaline. And, of course, any Swedish player is always pleased to defeat a Finn team, so I warmly remember our big win over Jokerit, even if the team does not consist entirely of Finns, but there are also North Americans and Danes. It was still great!” Svedberg concludes with loud laughter.
With the KHL paused for the February international break, Svedberg has now a chance to relax. “I’m not resting and relaxing, trying to recover some energy. We still have six games to play and have a good chance to end the regular season as the second seed. Any single point is important; this is why I need a good rest, the playoffs are going to start very soon.”
The blueliner is enjoying his time in Astana. “When my girlfriend came and visited me, we had a nice tour of the city, went to the Expo and the Baiterek Tower – called “Chupa Chups” by the locals – visited a few museums and of course we had some shopping. All the normal things.”
But as for all other competitive players, Svedberg has only one ultimate goal: “We want to win the Cup, I think that we showed that we can beat anyone out there. I am not exaggerating. It is important for each player in the team to understand this so as not to create any barriers in their mind. Therefore, we have to show our best hockey, follow the system, and win.”
Born on May 24, 1991, in Goteborg, Sweden
Career: 2010-2013 Frolunda, Sweden; 2013-2018 Rockford IceHogs, AHL; 2015-2016 Chicago Blackhawks, NHL; 2018-today Barys Astana.