When Linköpings HC signed lifelong Malmö resident and Redhawks player Carl Söderberg, it knew it was getting one of the most explosive young centers in Swedish hockey. There was no way, however, LHC head coach Hans Särkijärvi could know just how explosive.
Söderberg took the Elitserien by storm in his inaugural season. He notched five points in his first three games and had nine points in as many games before he missed 12 games with a broken finger. All of his goals were game winners and in his return Nov. 21 against defending league champions Farjestad, Söderberg set up the winning goal in LHC’s 2-1 win.
Not bad for a kid whose sole dream was to play for his beloved Malmö Redhawks. That dream came true in 2006 when Söderberg signed with Malmö as a 21-year-old with gobs of talent. He remained with the Redhawks even after they dropped from the Elitserien to the Allsvenskan in 2007. Since then, Söderberg not only turned down repeated requests to report to the NHL clubs that held his rights, he also declined several contract proposals from Elitserien clubs. Söderberg, who turned 26 on Oct. 12, finally chose this season to sever his career-long ties with Malmö to sign with Elitserien team Linköpings HC.
"I feel like the time was right," Söderberg recently told Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan. "It's not that I didn't want to play in Elitserien. I wanted to do it with Malmö, and I gave it several tries. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I don't regret the decision, but I am looking forward to playing in Linköping. They are a regular playoff team, and I think it should be a good season."
Söderberg centers a line for Linköping with veteran Elitserien forwards Par Ålbrandt and Andreas Jämtin. Ålbrandt is a small (5-foot-7) but shifty sniper, who scored 19 goals and 40 points to lead Lulea HF in scoring last season before signing with Linköping after the season. Jämtin, a Detroit Red Wings’' draft pick (fifth round, No. 157, in 2001) who also played briefly in the New York Rangers' minor-league system, is a feisty agitator who tallied 18 goals two seasons ago for LHC.
"I think it's a good combination," said the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Söderberg. "We all have a role to play, and have confidence in each other."
With Söderberg in the lineup, Linköping is 9-1. When he missed most of November with the broken finger, Linköping lost 9 of its 12 games, dropping from first to sixth place.
Drafted by St. Louis in the second round (No. 49) of the 2002 Entry Draft, Söderberg's physical gifts and positional smarts were noted by scouts from the time he dominated the Swedish junior leagues and suited up for the national team at both the 2003 Under-18 World Junior Championships and the 2005 Under-20 WJC. In the latter tournament, he racked up 4 goals and 6 points in 6 games.
Although he has never been a particularly aggressive physical player or the fleetest of skaters in a straight line, Söderberg has been a dominant player at every level he's played. In his last Elitserien season (2006-07) prior to Malmö's relegation, a 21-year-old Söderberg compiled 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 31 games. At the Allsvenskan level, his best campaign was 59 points in 45 games during the 2008-09 season. As a result, there has always been considerable interest in the player by other teams, including clubs in the NHL, Elitserien and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.
Söderberg, however, always chose to stay in Malmö. The Blues signed him to a three-year entry level contract in 2006 and he attended training camp with the team. However, he declined an AHL assignment to the Peoria Rivermen, and chose to return to his hometown club.
Unable to lure him back from Malmö, the Blues traded Söderberg to the Bruins on July 23, 2007 in exchange for 2002 first-round pick Hannu Toivonen. Söderberg annually rebuffed the Bruins in similar fashion, and politely declined all subsequent offers that came his way until LHC landed him this year. Coincidentally, goaltender Toivinen signed a two-year contract with Malmö this summer, shortly after Söderberg announced he was finally leaving the club.
Söderberg's unusual career path has led some in North America and his homeland to question his desire and his devotion to play the game. Those who know him, however, say nothing could be further from the truth.
"Carl is a hard worker, and an extremely intelligent and mature young man, on and off the ice," said a veteran Sweden-based scout. "He takes hockey seriously, and trains very hard, but he has always looked at things in the bigger picture of what he feels is right for his life. I don't think there's a question that he's a good player, but I think he has just not been the right fit for the NHL. It's not just a question of skill or [being] coachable. There are other sacrifices, and a lot of uncertainty for a young player trying to make it in the NHL. To be a success, you have to be all-in or else all-out, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. I think that Carl understands this, actually much better than other players who went over to North America and failed because they weren't totally committed in one way or another."
Söderberg has always preferred to leave as little to chance as possible. His career decisions and approach to his lifestyle as a whole have always been extremely meticulous. Apart from his devotion to physical training, which is hardly unique in his profession, he is an avid reader of books, newspapers and a wide variety of periodicals. He believes in doing thorough research before making life-changing decisions. On a daily basis, Söderberg is also given to writing down an extremely detailed agenda on his calendar.
"I write anything down that I might forget," he told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. "I never list things I know that I have to do (like work out with weights and skate). It's more that I don't like to have things gnaw at me that I can't remember. So I write them all down so I can check them off. It could be housecleaning, when I need to go to the bank, when I've promised to call someone or meet someone."
Not surprising, Linköping's prized recruit is also quite detail-oriented in his preparations for games and his approach to self-motivation during the lengthy season. However, it is in the locker room, on the ice and around his teammates where he feels the most relaxed.
"It's a workplace you have fun in," he said. "It's extremely cool to come down every day to the locker room and to practice. It's a very happy workplace, and the games are really enjoyable."
Söderberg has always placed his happiness with his team and comfort in his environment as his top professional priority, above money and others' perceptions of prestige. He has always stuck by his own objectives. Söderberg is not the first highly sought European player who has chosen to play at home rather than seeking NHL fame and fortune. What set Söderberg apart is the fact that he chose to stay with a minor league team rather than playing in Elitserien for its own sake.
Although he has finally switched teams, Söderberg says his mindset has not changed and he has always wanted to win as much as the next player.
"The goal is always to help your team win, that's why you play a team sport," he said. "I will play any role that's asked of me. I have a lot of faith in this team and all of my teammates. Everyone on the team has to be united for the same goal. That's the only way it can work."