19 Stories: The mentor
Daniel, I've a feeling we're not in Ornskoldsvik any more – Henrik Sedin, 2000.
Saying that Daniel and Henrik Sedin experienced culture shock when they moved from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden to Vancouver 10 years ago would be the mother of all understatements.
Our home and native land, roughly 7,000 kilometers from Foppaland, where the twins resided until the age of 20, was fierce and intimidating to a pair of foreigners who didn’t speak the language; up was down, black was white and something as easy as comprehending street signs was suddenly like pulling teeth.
The Sedins coming to Vancouver remains one of the biggest draft day splashes in NHL history and Daniel and Henrik were thrilled they could remain on the same team, as had been the case since the pair learned to skate.
The bonus part of the deal, which didn’t reveal itself until the Sedins got to Canada and made the jump to the Canucks, was that Markus Naslund was part of the team. Not only a fellow Swede, Naslund grew up in Ornskoldsvik.
Suddenly the transition between cultures and customs didn’t seem so bad with Naslund in the Sedins’ corner.
Naslund, 27 at the time, was seven years older than the Sedins when they arrived, but he was quick to take them under his wing and help make sense of their new surroundings.
“He was a huge help off the ice at the start,” said Henrik. “Just getting apartments, doing all the bills, everything was new that way. We only lived in our own place for a year before moving over, so there were a lot of new things.
“Having a guy from our hometown was great. To come from our city to Vancouver with so many people living here in such a big city, and to have a guy that’s from your neighborhood and he plays here and he’s been here a long time, so it makes you believe it’s not such a big step.”
The Sedins went to Naslund with questions about anything and everything before getting on their feet; Naslund was a mentor to two of hockey’s biggest up and coming stars and he’s a major reason the twins are where they are today.
When Naslund spoke, they listened. Daniel still reflects back to one talk in particular when the Sedins are facing adversity today.
“After the first few years he just said that we have to play our game and play the way that made us successful back in Sweden and that’s something that we’ve really tried to do for the last few years.”
With the Canucks, the Sedins have played better than they ever did in Sweden and exceeded perhaps even their own expectations of late with Henrik the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner and Daniel fresh off an 85-point campaign in which he played only 63 games.
Naslund’s final season in Vancouver may have been in 2007-08, but it’s evident to the Canucks who played with him that his legacy lives on through the Sedins.
“He’s a guy that came from the same home town and had a lot of success in the NHL and you see a lot of similarities between personalities between the three of them,” said Kevin Bieksa.
“Markus being very easy going, even keel and you see that with the twins, they don’t get too high or too down. They’re good genuine people, good family values and I see a lot of similarities.”
Although Bieksa’s move to Vancouver wasn’t anywhere near as drastic as he spent two and a half seasons with the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg before joining the Canucks, the defenceman was still lost as a newcomer in the dressing room. True to form, Naslund was there for him.
“I don’t think he really targeted me and said he was going to mentor me, but more or less just watching the way he went about his business when he came to the rink everyday and how professional he was had a big impact on me,” said Bieksa.
“I thought he was great with the media and the example he always set for his teammates was great; he’s one of those guys that always treated everyone equally and being a rookie and a first year guy, he spoke to me like he’d speak to Bert or Jovo and those guys.
“To show me that type of respect with me being a young guy, that meant a lot to me. He’s the type of guy that didn’t demand respect, but he respected everyone else by the way he carried himself and in the way he acted. He’s a guy I definitely looked up to.”
Everyone will be looking up to Naslund’s #19 as of December 11 when it is raised to the rafters and both Daniel and Henrik couldn’t think of a more fitting way to honour their former teammate and lifelong friend.
“I think he’s one of the best goal scorers in this league throughout the years and he was the captain for a lot of years, he meant a lot to the city and he took this team from where it was to a Cup contender, so he did a lot for this organization,” said Daniel, in support of Naslund’s jersey being retired.
Added Henrik: “Where the team was when he came in and became the captain, I think he and other guys took the team from 11 or 12 thousand people watching the games to all of the sudden they were one of the best teams in the league and sold out crowds every night for the exciting team. He put up numbers, he was really, really close to winning the Art and then the Hart, so I think it’s a given.”