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An International Flavor

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche’s 2008 Development Camp was filled with North American skaters and goaltenders looking to improve their skill sets through valuable on-ice time with the organization’s staff. In addition to that bevy of talent, there were two skaters from another continent who brought a bit of an international flavor to this year’s event.

Winger Johan Alcen and defenseman Jens Hellgren both made their first trips to the United States this week in hopes of soaking up as much information as they could before heading back to their native Sweden.

Hellgren, who was selected by the Avalanche in the sixth round of the 2007 Entry Draft, has spent the majority of the last three seasons with Frolunda Jr. There, he ranked fourth among team blueliners with 14 points (4g/10a) a season ago. Alcen, tabbed by Colorado in the seventh round of that same draft, has honed his skills by skating in 71 games with Brynas over the past two seasons while also spending time with Brynas Jr.

While their surroundings this week were new, some of the faces were familiar to Alcen and Hellgren. Both players have represented their country in international competitions and have gone head-to-head with some of the attendees at this week’s development camp in the past as members of Team Sweden.

“When I was flying over with them, we were talking about some of the players, like (Kevin) Shattenkirk and (Nigel) Williams,” said Avalanche Scout Anders Carlsson, who also served as an unofficial tour guide for the duo during their time stateside. “They kind of know all the players because they have played against them before.”

That knowledge and experience can prove invaluable. The players’ international experience not only makes Alcen and Hellgren familiar with some of the players at development camp – which, in turn, gives them something to talk about with their fellow attendees – but also acts as a measuring stick of sorts for their own progress. Playing at the international level has allowed both players to see how they stack up against the best players in their age group the world has to offer.

Hellgren captured a bronze medal with Team Sweden at the 2007 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championship, while Alcen represented Sweden at the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“It was a very big deal. It was the biggest thing in my life so far,” said Alcen, who recorded a goal and three assists as Team Sweden claimed the silver medal at the event. ”We went to the final and I think I played pretty good in the tournament. I was happy with myself and I think I could play against every player there.”

While the prospects are still young – Alcen is 20 years old and Hellgren just 19 – they both have plenty of potential. Carlsson offered up a brief scouting report on each.

“Jens is mobile on his skates, makes a good first pass and takes the man out of the play without hitting them hard, like a smart player can,” said Carlsson about the 6-foot-3, 192-pound Hellgren.

“Johan’s a hard-working winger that goes to the net and has pretty good hands,” noted Carlsson in regards to the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Alcen. “He plays hard along the boards, but likes to cut into the net and work there.”

Needless to say, the instruction the pair received at this week’s development camp should only help in their continued efforts to progress as hockey players. The combination of on-ice skills, power skating lessons, education on nutrition and off-ice training offered at the camp will no doubt aid in that process.

“I’m happy to be here this week,” said Hellgren. “It’s nice to be out here with some great players. It can only help me get better.”
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