Americans Broc Little and Garrett Roe build a hockey rink of dreams while playing in Sweden.
It all started in August 2016 when American forwards Broc Little and Garrett Roe took to the ice together for the first time for Linköpings HC. Six months later, the U.S. players have LHC near the top of the Swedish Hockey League and have become one of the top-scoring tandems in the SHL.
Not bad for a couple of players that barely received a glimpse from the vaunted National Hockey League.
“We didn’t even know each other before we got here,” said Roe in a telephone interview with Nordstjernan. "We didn’t play each other in college and we weren’t in the AHL (American Hockey League) at the same time.”
Despite not knowing one another, Little and Roe gelled almost immediately. Roughly the same size — Little is listed at 5-foot-9-inches, 170 pounds while Roe runs 5-foot-8-inches, 168 pounds — the two former college stars share a similar style and work ethic.
“He is a great player and when you’re playing with a good player, it elevates your game,” Roe said. “We read each other pretty well, and we’re great friends off the ice. On the ice we both share a competitive drive.”
Little said their physical traits helped the two work well together. “I think we see the game in a similar way,” he said. “He’s another guy who is a little undersized and really skilled offensively. He does a great job at center, and he wants to produce on offense. Together we are always fighting to score.”
Little is currently second in the league with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games, one point behind Skellefteå winger Joakim Lindstrom. Roe is tied for 11th with 29 points (12 goals 17 assists) in 39 games, and centers a line with Little on the left and Norwegian right wing Kent Andre Olimb on the right. Little credits his linemates and head coach Dan Tangnes with promoting a thinking-man’s brand of hockey.
“We always play a style that is player-friendly, especially for a guy like myself who wants to create offense,” Little said. “We have the freedom to try certain things other coaches might not let you. This team is great and the coaches are great. They don’t get too hard on you and you see that in the play out there.”
Similar paths to the SHL
Roe was a 2008 draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings but chose to attend hockey powerhouse St. Cloud State in Minnesota. He graduated in 2011 as the school’s all-time assist leader and scored the third-most points in the team’s history. After two years in the AHL with the Adirondack (now Allentown) Phantoms, he signed with EC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, followed by a year at Munich in the German Hockey League. He signed with Linköping as a free agent last summer.
“I actually made a mistake,” Roe said. “I had offers to go to different leagues and went to Austria. I wanted to come to the SHL because it is one of the top leagues. It’s top-level hockey and they treat you like a professional. Coming here has been a nice blend of top-level hockey, a great quality of life and Linköping is great place to live.”
Little also starred in college as he led Yale University to the NCAA national championship in 2009. Despite racking up 142 points in 136 career games for the Bulldogs, NHL scouts overlooked the left winger and he went undrafted on graduation. Undaunted, Little decided to pursue his professional hockey dreams on his own and moved to Sweden.
“I came straight over after college,” Little said. “I thought I would get an offer from the NHL but when that didn’t happen, I came over and started in the second league and it clicked right away.”
Little landed at Västerås in the Hockey Allsvenskan, where he scored 35 goals and had 31 assists in 51 games to lead the league lead. AIK, then playing in the Elitserien, the forerunner to the SHL, signed the American and again he lit up scoreboards, amassing 46 points in 55 games, good for fifth in the top flight.
His offense caught the attention of the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, and Little signed as a free agent, albeit on an AHL contract, at the start of the 2013-14 season. It was not what Little expected.
“There is a big difference between being on the AHL on an NHL contract and signing an AHL contract, and it’s not just the money,” Little said. “In the AHL, no one is really happy to just be an AHL player. It’s dog eat dog as everyone is trying to get to the next level. There’s not a lot of attention on the team, except maybe in the town where it is. The SHL operates much better.”
Little played 20 games in Springfield then signed with the Iowa Wild, where he played once before deciding to return to Europe. He signed with Jokerit of the Finnish Hockey League, but admits he didn’t play his best.
“I was coming off the AHL I had a couple of injuries that hampered me,” he said. “I never had fair chance to show what I could do. I was playing on a fourth line (better known as the 'grinder line,' in which players use a more physical style to play defense against an opponent’s top line). It took a toll and it was a lost season for me.”
At home in Sweden
When Jokerit officials decided to join the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, the Finnish club cut Little and he signed with Linköping as a free agent. It was almost a homecoming for him.
“Linkoping is really similar to Västerås in the way the city is set up. I really enjoy the feel of it — it’s a city but it has that small-town feel,” he said. “I did play in Stockholm and I like the smaller town feel but it’s not too small. There are a lot of great restaurants. I can be at the rink in two minutes. I have been here for three years and have done everything you can do. It’s an easy place to live.”
On the ice, Roe and Little forged an almost instant connection, due in part to their different take on the international rink on which the SHL plays. The international rink is 15 feet wider than its NHL counterpart. Although Little spent most of his formative years playing on NHL-size ice, he said he actually prefers the larger rink.
“As a smaller guy who likes to create offense, the bigger ice gives me a split second longer utilize to my advantage,” he said.
Roe, however, said he likes the smaller rink. “I think 95 out of 100 people would think I like the international but I prefer the NHL rink,” he said. “I think it forces quicker reaction and I actually enjoy the contact.”
If they see the ice a little differently, both share the same opinion of living and playing in Sweden.
“It’s very professional hockey,” said Roe. “Really, this is the third best league in the world and they produce and you see it every time. This is a highly competitive league and I would recommend it anyone.”