For as long as Anton Strålman can remember he’s always thought positively about his chances of one day becoming an NHL player.
In 1975, Mona Lisa and Jan Strålman were living in Tibro, a small sports-crazy town in south central Sweden. She was working as a nursing assistant, and he was a union official. Together they had three children – Maria, Anders and newborn son Christoffer. Eleven years later, the Strålman family welcomed their fourth child, a third son, Anton, who one day would realize his dream of becoming the first, and to date the only, NHL player from Tibro.
Like many boys before him, Strålman benefited from the small town hockey environments in Sweden. The town of Tibro provided the necessary resources for Strålman, who lived a half mile from the community ice rink, the local gymnasium and soccer fields. Strålman is perhaps the most well-known athlete to come from Tibro, joining tennis star Robin Soderling and Swedish figure skating champion Viktoria Helgesson.
Anton followed in his family’s footsteps. His brothers played hockey. Their father and uncles played before them, and their grandfather played before them. Anton Strålman has taken his passion for hockey further and he reached the pinnacle when he made his NHL debut on October 23, 2007 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s exciting,” Strålman said. “Coming from a small town and without any real role models before me, obviously I had other role models, but not from there. It makes it really exciting knowing that I took the first steps for a bunch of kids who can hopefully do the same thing.”
By the time Strålman was 16-years-old, he had already played in his first national tournament – the TV-Pucken for Västergötland – and he was ready to branch out for his first hockey challenge at the Division 1 level with Skövde IK.
Skövde was a great decision for two reasons: first, he had success at three different levels with the hockey club; and second, while attending high school at Lövängs Gymnasieskola in Skövde he first met Johanna Allert, whom he would later marry.
Skövde is 22 kilometers – or just under 14 miles – from Tibro. While many other aspiring Swedish players leave home at a young age to pursue their hockey dreams, Strålman commuted, taking a bus to-and-from school and hockey practices.
In school, he studied nursing with an emphasis on gaining the skills to become perhaps a firefighter or emergency medical technician. But when he wasn’t hitting the books, Strålman was honing his hockey sense and learning to read the game.
“It’s funny and it might sound pretty cocky, but I always thought that I would play in the NHL when I was a kid,” he said. “But it probably wasn’t until I got to the Elitserien that I really understood that I might have a shot at it.
“It’s obviously every kid’s dream and you’re really thinking that you can go for it until it stops. But I was lucky and I got the opportunity, and I took it and here I am. It takes a lot of luck, but obviously, a lot of hard work.”
Strålman’s hard work has paid off more than once. From Skövde, he was invited by Team Sweden to participate in three different international tournaments during the 2004-05 season. Months after the Maples Leafs made the Swedish defenseman a seventh round selection in the 2005 NHL draft, Strålman joined Timrå, where he played 45 games and was a finalist for the Elitersien rookie of the year award, which was won by Nicklas Bäckström.
The next season, Strålman had the most-productive season of his Elitserien career, scoring 10 goals with 11 assists in 53 games. The league recognized his efforts by announcing that he was the youngest of five players named to the 2006-07 All-Star team.
His nomination to the All-Star team jumpstarted an exciting summer in 2007, which was capped three weeks after he signed a three-year contract with the NHL’s Maple Leafs. Strålman’s longtime girlfriend, Johanna Allert, delivered the couple’s first baby, a daughter named Liv in June.
In all, he played 88 NHL games with the Maple Leafs, but he never really settled in, splitting back-to-back seasons between the NHL and Toronto’s AHL affiliate. After two seasons with the Leafs, especially the last year, which was rough, Strålman needed a change of scenery, and the trade to Calgary in July 2009 was a welcomed move.
“It came at the right time,” he said.
But Strålman headed to a Flames’ organization that had seven strong defensemen on the roster and good depth heading into the 2009-10 season. Fearing that they could lose Strålman on waivers if they tried to move him to their minor league affiliate, the Flames chose to trade the young defenseman to Columbus.
“I thought it would be tough to crack the line-up there,” Strålman said. “But the trade to Columbus was a surprise.”
The summer of 2009 was a whirlwind. Johanna gave birth to the couple’s second child – a son, Lowve – in mid-September, just days before Anton was to report to Flames’ training camp.
But two days before the Flames were to open the regular-season against the Vancouver Canucks, Strålman got the phone call that threw his world a curveball – he had been traded again.
“I thought that I had made the team,” Strålman said. “Obviously, you never know when you have a two-way contract, but I felt pretty confident coming out of camp.
“Before we were traded to Calgary we knew that Columbus was interested, but we never thought that they would trade for us after we got traded from Toronto. But it turned out good.”
The first three weeks in Columbus were nerve-racking. Strålman was alone trying to get acclimated to new teammates and assimilated to a new system. Meanwhile, Johanna and their two young children were stranded in Calgary, fending for themselves without family or friends in a strange city.
Fortunately, the Blue Jackets played in Calgary in the first few days of the new season. And the afternoon before taking on the Flames, Anton and Johanna were married in their rented apartment.
“We did so that she could get into the States,” he said. “They refused her visa, so they left us with the options of going home and applying for one or get married in Calgary. I called the administration office and we had a guy who came out to our apartment and we had a ceremony over there. We really didn’t know anybody in Calgary; we were only there for a month and a half. That’s the way it turned out. Obviously this is official, but we’re planning on doing it more the traditional way (at a later date) in Sweden.”
With his family reunited, Strålman enjoyed a productive first season in Columbus, compiling personal single-season bests in games (73), assists (23) and points (34).
“I just tried to do my best and show my strong side,” said Strålman, who was partnered with Fedor Tyutin on the Blue Jackets’ blue line. “First impression is pretty important. They wanted me to be an offensive guy and a play-maker on the power-play, and that’s what I like to do, so I just tried to do my best.”
In July 2010, Strålman signed a one-year extension to stay in Columbus, and his hope is to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in his career. While reaching the apex of the hockey world is a fantastic feeling, Strålman ultimately wants to add a championship to his resume.
“I would have to say that my highlight so far has been when we got promoted with Skovde from Division 3 to Division 2,” Strålman said. “That was an awesome time. I think that was my most fun season so far.
“Second, I would say winning the bronze medal at the (2009) World Championship in Switzerland. I haven’t won anything in my career expect the promotion and the bronze medal. Though the bronze medal isn’t really winning either. But it’s a taste. I had played in two other bronze medal games before then and didn’t win them. So winning it was a taste of winning. Of course, you get rewarded and so it was awesome, and I can’t imagine what winning a gold medal would feel like.”
When not at the rink, Strålman enjoys spending time with his family. He’s an avid sports fan, who enjoys watching soccer and tennis, and he also likes watching movies, listening to music, and playing his guitar.
“If you want to watch a movie, you have to have some spare time,” he said. “But you can listen to music anywhere, whether you’re playing with your kids, doing vacuum cleaning, dish-washing, or whatever.”
Something that he learned from his brother Christoffer was a love for playing the guitar. As a teenager, Christoffer was in a Swedish punk rock band. Anton was influenced by the music that his teenager brother often played around the house.
“When I was six-years-old, Christoffer was a teenager and I was listening to all of the metal and grunge in the early-90s,” Anton said. “That’s my school. … It was an awesome school.”
While Anton likes to play guitar a couple times a week – guitarists Slash, Angus Young inspire him – he admits to being a novice.
“I’m pretty bad,” he said with a laugh. “I’d say that I’m a four out of a 10. But I love it. I wish that I had the time to really practice. I’ve been playing for the last four or five years. It takes time in the beginning to get into it and learn the cords.”
Growing up as the youngest of four with the closest sibling being 11-years older, Strålman is now the uncle of a similarly built prospect in Skövde. Jonathan Strålman, would like to following in his uncle’s footsteps.
“He is Maria’s second child,” Anton said. “He is trying to make the senior team in Skovde. …Hopefully he gets some experience with the A-team as well.”
|Team||New York Rangers|
|Height||185 cm / 6'1"|
|Weight||86 kg / 190 lbs|