Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Ekholm Diaries: The Return Home

Predator fans are aware of the abrupt departure of rookie defenseman Mattias Ekholm back to Sweden to play for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. Many felt that it would have been better for the young defenseman's development if he would have stayed in North America and played in the AHL, but it was reported that he was under a contractual obligation to return home if he did not stay with the Predators.

I do not have a blog entry from Ekholm to report, but I do have an article from Gelfe Dagblad, the newspaper that covers the Brynas Hockey team. The article quotes extensively from Ekholm about his experience in North America and the Predators as well as his reaction to Coach Trotz's reaction to his play in the Vancouver game.

 Back With the Gang- Ekholm Hopes to Play this Evening

It took only a second or two before he was in the group, again. Mattias Ekholm came directly from a long flight over the Atlantic, he was picked up at Arlanda by sport’s director Micke Sundlöv and practiced with Brynäs a quarter hour after arriving at Läkerol Arena.

“Now I am terrible eager to play, also. I hope to be ready against Timrå,” says Mattias.

He had just got on his uniform, sauntered out in the playing area in easy conversation with Jonathan Granström before he stepped on the familiar ice, again. Calle Järnkrok and Simon Bertilsson boxed Ekholm’s shoulder pads as a welcome home greeting and then everything was normal, again.

“Damn nice to be home. Obviously, it is a big advantage that I already know all of the guys. I was here last year and practiced the whole preseason with the team before I went over at the beginning of September. It helps, of course.”

The adventure in Nashville and the experience he now has gained about how a NHL team works, he wouldn’t have undone.

“I, obviously, regret nothing. It was positive and damn fun to get to be there. I got to play two NHL matches which were fantastic to get to experience and something I more than gladly would do again. It became what it became this time, but I have two years remaining on the contract and gladly will make a new try next year,” says Ekholm, who hopes that he did not burn his chances when he came home.

The 21 year old knew fairly early that there would not be a permanent place on the NHL team. With injuries on the defensive side he was still the seventh back and got to play sporadically. After the Canadian trip last week he got the word that there would be no more NHL play this season.

Coach Barry Trotz was not gracious in his outward criticism and said that Ekholm was horrible – absolutely horrible in the loss against Vancouver.

“The words stand for him and I don’t think it was so bad. They are brutally honest over there and as a NHL player you must be able to take the criticism. I have no problem with it at all”, explains Mattias.

To come home to Sweden again was not an easy decision to make. Nashville preferred to have him in the AHL to adjust to matches on the small rinks and naturally it would be easier to follow his development.

“But I must think about myself, too. I believe simply that I am better off to play here at home in the Elite Series. Certainly, I went back and forth, but after having talked through the situation with the teams, we decided this.”

It went quickly to pack together things and get on a plane. After a layover and plane change in Amsterdam, he was a Brynäs player, again. Now, only the paperwork needs to be completed so that he can play in the match against Timrå this evening.

“I have followed everything in Sweden on the computer and talked with some here at home, also. I am really eager to play. There were only two matches over there with 10 minutes playing time,” says Ekholm who was naturally, both, tired and worn out after the long trip.

Ekholm practiced together with Jonathan Carlsson on the fourth defensive pair during the 45 minutes which Brynäs worked yesterday morning. How it goes in the match remains to be seen.

“I will just try to play my own game and help by doing what I am good at. Like last season,” Ekholm concludes.

And all remember how that ended. As the rookie of the year, national team player, and a lot of goals and assists. Brynäs has probably gotten back their dream defenseman.

Below is an article that appeared in Darlarna Tidninger, the newspaper that published Ekholm's blog while he was in North America

8:45 landed flight KL1107 from Amsterdam at Arlanda.

Brynäs sports director Michael Sundlöv had at the same time driven nearly 140 km to pick him up, on his significance:

“Dream defenseman. He was our best back last season,” commented Sundlöv.

Same time was the meeting the end for Vikarby’s son Mattias Elkholm’s NHL adventure – this time.

Last Friday night Mattias Ekholm played his second NHL match for Nashville. It was a loss against Vancouver and afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was anything but gracious in his criticism of Mattias Ekholm’s effort.

“He was horrible, absolutely horrible.”

“Many perhaps think it was harsh, but it is much more honest there, even if I think it was a tough lecture,” says Ekholm about Barry Trotz’ judgment.

The NHL adventure, thereafter, quickly came to an abrupt end.

Saturday, Nashville put out a press release that Ekholm would return to Brynäs and on Monday at 11 o’clock the 21 year old had his first practice with his new-old club.

DT-sport was onsite and followed the talented national team defenseman who drew his bow but missed in the world’s hardest hockey league.

The choice stood between the AHL and Brynäs and for Ekholm it became quickly obvious to return to Sweden.

“If my goal had been to get to the NHL as quick as possible, I should have stayed there. Right or wrong to go home – it shows itself in four, five year,” says Ekholm and continues, “Certainly there are mixed feelings, but I understood fairly early, when we had seven defensemen, that it would not go.”

Instead, says Mattias Ekholm, the ability to develop into a better hockey player is in Sweden and the Elite Series than in the American farm league.

“They wanted me to stay, and of course, think well of their own house, but somewhere I must think about myself and this was not an easy decision.”

Already, today, if the last paperwork reaches Sweden, Mattias Ekholm will make his debut when Brynäs meets Timrå at home in Läkerol Arena.

Today the situation stands that Mattias Ekholm is loaned out to Brynäs this season, at the same time he sits with a two year contract with Nashville.

“It is nice to be home again and now I am eager to play.”

Although it was reported that the Predators had no choice but to return Ekholm back to Sweden, the tenor of the articles implies that it was Ekholm's decision to return home. He almost seems casual about the development, saying that his return home will work itself out in "four or five years" as to whether or not he plays in the NHL.

Ekholm seemed unfazed by the criticism of his play by Coach Trotz, saying that it is just the honest nature of the coaches in the NHL.

Ekholm's paperwork did reach Sweden, and he scored a power play goal for Brynas in a game Monday night.

Once again, the View offers his gratitude to Patricia Blair, who secured and translated these articles for me.

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