Marc Crawford's neck before the Dallas Stars' new coach stepped into the team's practice facility for a tour late this summer. But it wasn't the weather in "Big D" that first caught Crawford's attention.The warm Dallas sun beat down on the back of
"There were about a dozen or so players on the ice and one guy was about a mile and a half ahead of the rest," Crawford said. "I looked at him a little closer and wasn't surprised that it was Loui Eriksson."
When Crawford was coach of the Los Angeles Kings for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, he remembered Eriksson as this skinny, but skilled, checker. It was last season as an analyst on Canadian TV that Crawford saw plenty of the remarkable quantum leap story of Eriksson, who went from 14 goals with the Stars in 2007-08 to 36 last season.
That skating stride and the skills that we saw glimpses of in Loui's first two NHL seasons had blossomed. Still, the story of this former second-round pick, No. 33, in the 2003 Entry Draft began last season as only a sidebar. You've got to remember, this is "Big D," where the legend of the Texas Rangers signing Alex Rodriguez or Brett Hull with the Stars or Terrell Owens with the Cowboys makes the story of the development of a shy and skinny Swedish kid only a work-in-progress article.
"My dad always told me you start with small goals and then listen to other people who know more about the game than you do, work as hard as you can at the things that will make you a complete player and then have confidence that your drive will take you to your dreams," the 24-year-old winger from Goteborg, Sweden said. "Yeah, I was real skinny, but I was confident I had the skills to some day play in the NHL."
When I first talk to a young player on the rise, I always want to see what makes him tick. One of the prime questions is: What obstacle did you have to overcome to get to where you are today? For Eriksson, that was the skinny. But the impetus, the drive, began when he was 15 and his dad, Bo, a pretty good handyman for years, was stricken with a brain tumor. Following the surgery the left side of Bo's body was left limp following the removal of the tumor.
"When you're young, you think you're parents are so strong, that there's nothing they can't do," Loui said, eyes wide open and focused on telling me how much his father fought through this affliction to continue working for Qunnila, a computer company in Goteberg. "Whenever I'm feel a little bruised or achy, a picture of my dad pops into my brain. Nothing stops him. He doesn't complain about what happened to him. He gets up in the morning like always and goes into work and fixes those computers."
Now, you see where that work ethic and drive that Eriksson shows on the ice each game comes from. That work ethic and those words of encouragement from his dad about listening and working hard have shown some skeptics that Loui Eriksson is more than just a guy who got lucky to get some of those important top two-line minutes that were available after captain Brenden Morrow was lost for the season last Nov. 20 with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Truth be told, the instincts the Stars' amateur scouts saw in Eriksson were just part of his natural maturation process. Plus, 16 of his first 18 goals were at even strength, showing that he wasn't getting Morrow's power-play minutes -- at least at first -- and was still showing his go-to-the-net-to-succeed skills while maintaining his defensive accountability.
At 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, Eriksson may not have the bulldozer skills of Peter Forsberg, his favorite player growing up, but the impact Loui provided the Stars last season and is doing it again this season -- even with Morrow back in the lineup -- is no less impressive.
He can make all the plays, whether it be making or taking a long stretch pass in stride or use his stickhandling skills and creativity to weave through the traffic in front of the net to give the Stars another scoring opportunity.
So far this season, he's starred on a line with veteran center Brad Richards and second-year power winger James Neal.
"Loui is a lot like Jere Lehtinen," Morrow said. "He does a good job of complementing everyone."
And it all goes back to hard work and that smart and intuitive advice Loui got from dear old dad a long time ago.
"I can remember wondering what things would be like at last year's training camp," Eriksson said. "We were coming off a trip to the Western Conference Final. I knew I'd have to be that much better to break into the top six forwards."
This year, he used the same hard work philosophy -- show them 36 goals were no fluke.
"This year, I came into camp with more confidence after last season. But then, I've got more responsibility, too. Her name is Elle. My wife, Micaela, gave birth to our first child just before training camp. Now, I'm not only working for my wife and myself, but Elle as well."
You bring up Loui Eriksson's name to Stars' GM Joe Nieuwendyk and he gushes, just like Marc Crawford did.
"He's such a gifted skater and hard worker. What's most important is knows how good he can be and how good he wants to be," Nieuwendyk added. "You notice first how smart he is. But the most important part is the determination and drive -- the fearless approach he show you -- and how he's not afraid to get to the dirty areas in traffic."
Like Marc Crawford said, he's about a mile and half ahead of a lot of other players in that regard.