Rookie Zetterberg longs for a taste of homeland
But adjusting to NHL has been piece of cake
By Ted Kulfan / The Detroit News
CALGARY, Alberta--The adjustment to hockey in North America wasn't that difficult. Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, a rookie from Sweden, got used to that quickly.
Zetterberg has played hockey for most of his 22 years. So the fact that the NHL game is a little more physical, quicker, and with not as much room to roam as in the European rinks, trouble.
"You get used to the type of game that's played here," Zetterberg said, quietly and efficiently, the way he usually speaks.
But it's the stuff off the ice that can daze any young European hockey player living thousands of miles away from home for the first time.
Stuff, like food.
Of all the things Zetterberg had to adjust to after he arrived at training camp in early September, the food might have been the most difficult.
"It's just cooked differently than it is in Sweden," Zetterberg said.
Zetterberg doesn't cook. So after landing in the U.S., he started counting the days until the visit by his parents and girlfriend scheduled for late September. Throughout training camp, Zetterberg could just about taste the good Swedish cooking he would soon be enjoying.
"My girlfriend (Desiree, who now lives with Zetterberg), she's a great cook," said Zetterberg.
So good, in fact, that they rarely go out to eat.
"It's a lot easier now that she's here and you have a place to call your own," he added. "The first couple of weeks, I was living in a hotel."
Most people see young NHL players from Europe, making bushels of money and attracting fame and attention, and think of it as a lifestyle that can only be dreamed about.
But try negotiating the highways from Joe Louis Arena to the suburbs, if you've never been here before and don't have a clue what is printed on the signs. Television programs aren't in your native language, and opening a checking account is a foreign affair. Friends and family can be called on the phone, but are still thousands of miles away.
Pavel Datsyuk went through it last season. Tomas Holmstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, and many other European Red Wings of the past have gone through it.
"A new country, a new culture, a new team, a new league," Coach Dave Lewis said. "It's an adjustment."
Zetterberg, along with Russian defenseman Dmitri Bykov, are going through it this season. But like others in recent years, they have older countrymen on the team to ease the transition.
Bykov is never far away from Maxim Kuznetsov, or Datsyuk, to help out with a question. Holmstrom's locker stall is next to Zetterberg's. Lidstrom is always around, too.
"They've been a big help," Zetterberg said. "If I have a question in Swedish about something, maybe there's something I don't understand, they've helped me out."
Zetterberg also uses the Internet to follow events in his homeland and track his old club team, Timra.
Zetterberg said the Wings' one-week prospects camp, for young players before the veterans roll into Traverse City, was a big help. General Manager Ken Holland and his staff began the camp four seasons ago as a way to get young players acclimated to a professional camp.
"It got me ready for the games, for when the big guys came up," said Zetterberg, whose previous trips to the U.S. included one junior tournament and a two-week vacation in Florida. "It's a different style of hockey here, and that camp showed me that."
Unlike many previous European Red Wings, Zetterberg joined the team with an astonishing amount of hype, fueled by his rock-star looks and his smooth playmaking skills.
He was Swedish Elite League MVP last season, and his eye-opening play at the February Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City raised expectations considerably.
A steady stream of Swedish television and print reporters have rolled in Detroit already this season. And most want to talk to Zetterberg first, and two-time Norris Trophy winner and playoff MVP Lidstrom, second.
When they do get to Lidstrom, one of the first questions he's asked is usually about Zetterberg.
Of all the attention, Zetterberg said, "I'm used to it," although he has not convinced anyone he likes it.
Two weeks ago, a reporter and photographer from Cafa Sports, the Swedish equivalent of Sports Illustrated, were at JLA to do a cover story on Zetterberg.
The photographer had Zetterberg seated near his locker for a series of shots. Each and every Wings player who passed that scene needled Zetterberg, forcing him to laugh out loud on a couple of occasions.
"They got me pretty good that day," Zetterberg said, grateful for new friends in his new home.