Selected 109th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Petersson spent several years in Sweden and the AHL prior to his KHL debut for HC Sochi in 2014. After three seasons on the sunny shores of the Black Sea, Petersson logged time with Avangard Omsk, Barys Nur-Sultan and Dynamo Moscow before his Loko arrival this summer. In his most recent season, Petersson was a member of the KHL’s best-performing line, and led Dynamo in playoff goals before the postseason was canceled due to COVID-19.
We caught up from Yaroslavl to discuss Petersson’s recent success in Moscow, his reunion with former Barys head coach Andrei Skabelka, and an early victory for the Railway Men at the Sochi Hockey Open.
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): You were on the league’s top-performing troika with Dynamo Moscow last season, alongside Vadim Shipachyov and Dmitrij Jaskin. What contributed to the success of that line?
André Petersson (AP): I mean, we had good players on that line. We obviously had Shipachyov, who's an excellent player. I haven't really played with anyone like that before—with that kind of skill. Watching him in practice every day was something else. The stuff he does, no one else can do really. And then Jaskin came in and was really good too, a really strong player with a lot of skill who was able to protect the puck. And then yeah, me too, I scored a couple of goals. We were three very different players, but we played together really well.
GK: When you have a line with undeniable chemistry like that, I can imagine it made your departure from Dynamo harder.
AP: Of course it did, but we couldn't reach an agreement early enough—so I had to move on.
GK: Just how bad were Krikunov's infamous “balloon” sessions?
AP: They’re tough, but you try to have some fun with it. And they do get easier. It's not fun to pull tires for an hour, but if you have fun with it—you can manage. We usually tried to laugh it off.
GK: So much is made of Krikunov’s coaching style standing the test of time. What exactly does that mean? What does he prioritize?
AP: Winning games, I guess! It never really mattered how it looked, as long as we were winning. Every line could do whatever worked for them. We didn't really have that strict of a system compared to let's say [Lokomotiv head coach] Skabelka. You have to know what you're doing within his system, otherwise you can't play in a team. But with Krikunov, there was more freedom, I guess, to just make it work.
For me, it was a little bit difficult because there was not a lot of translation going on. At times I felt left out, but luckily I had good teammates that were translating everything. During games and stuff, he was very fair. If you play well, then you’re allowed to play. And if you play badly, you will hear about it.
GK: Do you think that freedom contributed to why the three of you were so successful? Jaskin talked a bit about how you split roles and made decisions.
AP: Exactly—that’s what I mean. We were struggling a little bit in the beginning of the season because we were lost, but once we got into playing together and understanding each other, we made it work. That goes for all of the lines we had. Since it was more free, every line had to decide for themselves and play off of each other. [Laughs] Maybe there was some hidden system in there that I forgot to be a part of!
GK: Did Andrei Skabelka’s hire at Lokomotiv influence your decision to move?
AP: I was mostly looking at the role I was going to get, and the Swedish guys that were on the team already. I had heard from guys that played there before, and for me, having a good setup for my family was a big part of it.
GK: You mentioned Skabelka’s system. Tell us more about how he is managing Lokomotiv.
AP: It’s what I'm used to with Skabelka. It's pretty strict in our own end, but if you play his defense well, then you're allowed to do your own stuff offensively too. I like the style, and if everyone on the team plays the same way and keeps to the system, it's going to be good.
GK: I’ve heard from players who have played for him that speed is a priority. Do you feel the same?
AP: I do. At practices, it all starts with good conditioning for this coach. The drills in practice, the long skates, high-tempo—that’s the way he likes to prepare the team, and that's how we want to play too. Fast.
GK: Skabelka said that the team trained in two groups ahead of the preseason tournament in Sochi. I can imagine it was difficult to generate early cohesion.
AP: It was just because we were six lines back then—that’s why we were divided. The first couple of weeks, I guess we were broken into even smaller groups when people were coming in and we had two weeks of quarantine. I arrived late because I had some visa problems, so the first week, we were just three guys in our group.
That tournament started off pretty rough, but I think that goes with a lot of new players who haven’t had this coach before. It is very different from playing other systems, so it gets a little bit confusing. After two games, we knew a little bit more and played better. It's different from playing a traditional 2-2-1, playing the 1-3-1. And [Skabelka] is the only coach I've had that does it this way— it’s different positioning and different roles, stuff like that.
GK: I can imagine the early victory gave you guys a boost.
AP: It brightened the mood for sure. As I think of it—it’s just preseason, and it's a time to get the team together and to get to know each other and play together for the first time. But obviously it raised the mood, especially after losing those two games in the way that we did.
GK: I noticed in those early games that Skabelka essentially played a Scandinavian line. Can we expect to see imports together during the season?
AP: Well, you never know. We did not play that well during those first two games when [the imports] played together. He split us up for the next two games and we won, but we'll see. You never know. I've been with Anton Lander for the whole preseason here. I know he's a really good player, so hopefully we'll stick together and can build some more chemistry.
GK: One of your youngsters had a good showing at that tournament—Alexander Daryin. He seems to have quickly adjusted to Skabelka.
AP: Oh yeah. When you see all of these guys in practice, it looks like we have a really young and promising team—fast, and a lot of skill. It's going to be fun watching them during the season. I think [Skabelka] is good with everyone. He's fair to everyone. He wants us all to perform at our highest level. He can push really hard, but it's for the players’ own good.
GK: Who are some of the most interesting talents you’ve played with or against in the league?
AP: Like I said, Shipachyov—he was really fun to play with, or actually, it was even more fun to see him in practice. And obviously playing against Kovalchuk and those guys a couple of years ago, that was special too. One guy that was really fun to play against was Radulov, because he's just a show of his own when he’s on the ice.
GK: You won a silver medal at World Juniors as you were just coming onto the scene. What was that experience like for you?
AP: That tournament is always fun. I had a bronze medal too in the year after that. When you're in that tournament, winning is the only thing that matters. Everyone back home is watching and cheering for you, and all you want to do is win the gold medal. Unfortunately, we never did that—but it was a really fun tournament to play.
GK: Do you think it's fair how much pressure is put on young prospects to perform well at that tournament, given its high visibility?
AP: I don't know, tough question. Some guys are ready for that pressure and some are not. I think it's individual. Some guys can handle it, and some guys don't. If it's fair or not, I don't know. The really good players can manage it, but I’m not sure that anyone is ready for that kind of pressure when they're eighteen years old.
GK: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up.
AP: I grew up in a really, really small town in Sweden where no one played hockey. I was the only kid my age playing hockey, and I had to travel. My parents had to drive me back and forth to practice every day, twenty-five or thirty minutes. If you're from where I'm from, that's far, so it was special. I had my friends in school and then I had my friends in hockey—they were completely different and separated, but I spent a lot of time at the rink. Sometimes, once I got there, I'd practice with two or three teams a day, and then I went home and repeated that for six or seven years.
GK: If you hail from a town that didn't play hockey, how did you get into it?
AP: I was into all kinds of sports growing up. I played soccer and floorball and basketball and everything. My dad just took me to hockey practice one day. I guess he liked watching that team that he took me to, and that's how it started. I don't know—I haven't really asked!
GK: Who were the players that you admired growing up?
AP: Whenever I get that question, I always answer Mats Sundin because he was a righty like me and he was scoring all of the goals—so I was looking up to him.
GK: What's your relationship to the number 20?
AP: I guess it just stuck with me since I started playing. I remember that was my first number, and I still have it. I don't know if I was able to pick it when I was a kid, or if it was just assigned to me. I can't even remember.
GK: At Barys, you wore 40—seems like someone else got to it first.
AP: Actually, someone had it here too. They asked him to change numbers. If I had known that before, I would have picked something else.
GK: I guess you aren’t superstitious.
AP: No, you can give me any number. Guys have some weird ones, but I try not to do stuff like that. Well, not that I know of. Maybe I do something and don’t realize it.
GK: With two young kids, do we have future hockey players in the Petersson family? They’ve had quite an international childhood.
AP: We’ll see. They're pretty good with throwing balls and kicking around the football and stuff. My son was actually born in Kazakhstan.
GK: Is he speaking any Russian?
AP: He’s one, so he barely speaks Swedish yet!
GK: Okay, fair—but what about your three year old?
AP: She was going to kindergarten last year in Moscow and picked up English really fast. I think it took her a month, so now she's speaking some weird ‘Swenglish’ and picking up some Russian words here and there too. She's lived in five or six countries total, I think. When my parents and grandparents talk about that, they’re just amazed.
GK: What is your KHL road trip entertainment strategy?
AP: I try to bring as much stuff as I can, and then I pick the one that I feel the most like doing on the plane. I usually bring a couple of shows, a movie, audiobooks, some music and cards. Actually, I got through the Harry Potter books last season.
GK: You are the second person to say this to me in two weeks. Corban Knight also finished the Harry Potter books last season. You two can start a book club.
AP: Wow, he has good taste.