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Quality player, quality person

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Max Friberg is looking forward to a fresh start in the Canadiens organization.

Acquired on Thursday in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, the 23-year-old right-winger will travel from Southern California to Newfoundland on Friday to join the St. John’s IceCaps as they begin a six-game homestand at Mile One Centre. Friberg had been playing with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate – the San Diego Gulls – since the start of the year, putting up five goals and 17 points in 25 games. That ranked him fifth on the team in scoring. He also played five games with Bruce Boudreau’s contingent back in November.

News of the deal came as somewhat of a shock to Friberg, who has been in the Ducks’ fold since they selected him in the fifth round, 143rd overall, at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

“You never expect something like this to happen, but I was really excited when I heard it was Montreal. Just being a part of an Original Six organization in the NHL is something I’m really looking forward to,” offered Friberg, who debuted in North America with Anaheim’s former AHL affiliate – the Norfolk Admirals – back in 2012-13 after spending two seasons with Timra IK in the Swedish Elite League. “It’s the Montreal Canadiens. That’s all you need, motivation-wise. I’m going to do my best to impress [the staff in St. John’s], and hopefully I get a shot to go up and play in Montreal. It’s definitely exciting to get a new start.”

While Friberg grew up in Scandinavia idolizing the likes of Swedish stars Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, and especially 1994 Winter Olympics hero Peter Forsberg, he also had a soft spot for some of the best and brightest to ever don the bleu-blanc-rouge of the CH in recent years.

“I was actually a fan of the Canadiens when I was 13, 14 and 15 years old. I started to really like them a lot. They’re a classic team, and then you’ve got the hockey culture in Montreal and in Canada, in general. I have a few Canadiens hats and a jacket back home,” shared Friberg, who hails from Skövde in central-Southern Sweden, some 150 km northeast of Gothenburg. “I loved Alexei Kovalev, Mark Streit, Andrei Markov and Saku Koivu. I was even a fan of Carey Price. He was just getting started in 2007. Come playoffs, I would stay up for a few games even though they came on late at night.”

Friberg is already familiar with a few names on the IceCaps’ roster, which should make the transition somewhat easier as he gets settled into his new hockey home.

“I played against Jacob De La Rose a few times. I don’t think we played on the same team at any point, though. I played against Bud Holloway in Sweden, too. I know a lot about him. I tried to get in the way of a few of his one-timers on the power play there. I know what kind of player he is,” shared Friberg, who also has a connection to Habs forward Devante Smith-Pelly, formerly of the Anaheim Ducks. “I like Devo. We had good times together [in Norfolk]. He’s a great guy. I’m excited to maybe see him again in Montreal.”

Friberg made his mark on the international hockey scene at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, helping to pace Sweden to its first gold medal since 1981. He led the tournament with nine goals and led his team with 11 points, tying for second among all players on site. That earned him All-Star Team honours, alongside future NHLers Evgeni Kuznetsov, Mikael Granlund, Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Gormley and Petr Mrazek.

Since then, Friberg has enjoyed two relatively strong offensive campaigns, amassing back-to-back 40-point seasons in Norfolk over the last two years while continuing to adapt to the way the game is played on this side of the pond. He’s been pleased with his progress, knowing full well that comfort is a product of both playing experience and time.

“I hope everybody sees me as a two-way player who does everything correctly at both ends of the ice. I like to create offense. Everything comes off of hard work, getting in on the forecheck and skating hard. For me, it all starts with work ethic. All the good things will come with that,” confided Friberg, who scored an AHL career-high 17 goals in 2013-14, before chipping in with 15 goals last year. “I really feel like I’m doing everything better, though, especially defensively and on the penalty kill, too. I think I’ve developed a lot in those areas over the last few seasons.”

Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins certainly agrees with that assessment, particularly when it comes to Friberg readily putting his 5-foot-11 and 200-pound frame on the line time and again in the defensive zone.

“I can’t tell you how many clips we’ve shown our team of Max blocking shots. For whatever reason, he finds a way to get in front of almost every one of them. It’s a rarity that a shot comes from the point that he’s moving out on that point man and that guy is able to get it through,” praised Eakins, who has coached in the NHL ranks with Toronto and Edmonton, in addition to helming the AHL’s Toronto Marlies between 2009 and 2013. “Whether he’s laying down or sticking his foot out, he finds a way every time. True sacrifice on defense is when you’re willing to sacrifice your body, some pain and even injury to make sure that the puck doesn’t get to the net. Max is cheered on and highly respected in that regard.”

That’s one of many things the veteran bench boss admires about Friberg, who served as one of San Diego’s assistant captains. Eakins believes the Canadiens have also added a quality human being to their group, someone who can be a standout off the ice in addition to being a significant asset on it.

“Max was very highly regarded in our organization when it came to character. I’ve got two little girls, seven and four, and if I can raise them to have the same values, character and work ethic that Max has, then I will have done an unbelievable job as a parent. The Canadiens are getting an outstanding individual,” mentioned Eakins, who is disappointed to see Friberg go, but happy for him at the same time. “He’s easily going to be a leader wherever he goes. He understands how to do it. He understands about his impact and influence on others. This is a young man that is carrying himself like a seasoned veteran. He’s a slam dunk as a leader.”

Now, Friberg will be out to showcase that – and a lot more – to the Canadiens’ brass in short order, hoping to one day make the jump to the NHL ranks at some point down the road. Eakins insists it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.

“There’s a process to becoming a player at that level. Max is knocking on the door. With this opportunity, that will pave the way. I firmly believe that he’s deserving of a legitimate look. Whether that comes right away or later on, the great thing about Max is you’ll never have to worry about his attitude,” concluded Eakins. “He’s a really detailed kid and he wants to be coached. He did everything for us here. He was a guy that we relied on in crucial moments of the game, relied on to kill penalties and on the power play. We also relied on him to drive practices and really drive our workouts off the ice. He’s got the right mindset with this challenge of becoming an NHL player. Max is just going to give you everything he has. It’s literally that simple.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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