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A Rare Breed

by Gary Raible / Vancouver Canucks
Mattias Ohlund, the 31-year old defenceman from Pitea, Sweden has spent his entire NHL career in Vancouver. Canucks fans have watched Ohlund grow as an NHLer right before their eyes, from starting his career three years after being drafted in 1994, to overcoming a potentially career-threatening eye injury in 1999, to becoming the team’s most consistent defenceman.

Ohlund finished his 10th season with the Canucks in 2007-08 and he is still as unassuming as the first day he arrived. He is one of the NHL’s most underrated defencemen and continues to be one of the players most appreciated by the Vancouver hockey family.

RAIBLE: How meaningful is it to have played for the same team for the length of your NHL career?

OHLUND: It means a lot. I love Vancouver, I like living here. I’ve played with a lot of great players over the years, a lot of good coaches. My family has grown up here, my kids are in school, and we’ve become part of the community to the point where our trips back to Sweden are more “visits” than going home to live in the off-season.

RAIBLE: You realize, you’re part of a “vanishing breed,” playing for the same team you started your NHL career with?

OHLUND: Well, players leave, for different reasons. Some become unrestricted free agents, some are traded away. Obviously, I have been treated very well by management here and it’s been a mutual situation. A player has to want to play in the same place for a long time and, as I say, I’ve loved it here for so many years.

RAIBLE: Does this speak to your consistency as a hockey player?

OHLUND: I would like to think so. You try to do your best each and every night but sometimes you leave the rink feeling like you didn’t have a very good game. I think you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say you tried your best and worked your hardest. I take a lot of pride in trying to be consistent in what I do.

RAIBLE: Did you even expect to play 10-plus years in the NHL?

OHLUND: No, absolutely not. When I was drafted in ’94 at 17 or 18, I just dreamed of making it in the Swedish Elite League. At 20, that dream became the NHL and the Canucks. I had a five-year deal to begin with, but after a couple of years of losing, you see yourself just finishing out the contract and going home. Now, five or six years later, you’re hoping you’re in the middle of your career.

RAIBLE: When does an athlete start to consider how much of a career he has left?

OHLUND: I don’t know, but I know that today, I am having a lot more fun than I did when I was 20-years old. There will be a point where the team doesn’t want you to come back, or you will have to quit because of injury.

RAIBLE: I’m sure the Vancouver fans would want you to still be around for a chance to play for Sweden at Vancouver in 2010.

OHLUND: Yeah, I’ve played in three Olympics already and it’s been a lot of fun. It would be a tremendous honour, and quite an experience, to be a part of an Olympic hockey event in Vancouver.

RAIBLE: How has your life changed in the last decade, both on and off the ice?

OHLUND: Well, my life away from the rink now includes my wife and two kids and I have a great family. I now have to work harder to be in the kind of shape you need to be in to play this game. I have to pay attention to what I’m eating and how I train in the off-season. The training methods have changed so much, as well. The first four years here, we never made the playoffs, so after you make them, you realize how much fun it is and as you get older, you appreciate how much the playoffs mean to you. Hopefully, there is a Stanley Cup Championship in the not-too-distant future.

RAIBLE: Hasn’t the game changed a lot in the last decade, especially for defencemen?

OHLUND: Absolutely, and especially since the lockout. You have to be able to skate, you can’t just be big and strong and use your stick or use your hands and arms as much as you could before. The game is definitely more challenging for us, because the League wants to create more scoring.

RAIBLE: Another thing that’s changed in the last 10 years is the attention that is paid to the players, and the exposure the game has in many forms of media, like the growth of the Web. Did you know that there is a website that is “Dedicated to the Appreciation of Mattias Ohlund?”

OHLUND: I did not know that. Yes, it is crazy today, with all the media interest since I came into the League 10 years ago. That’s just society in general, how much information is available, and is out there. Being a player in this city, it has never been a problem; the fans have been great. I enjoy playing here; hopefully there is a mutual respect between me and the fans.

10 - Years playing in a Canucks sweater

300 - Career NHL points

3 - Olympic appearances with Team Sweden

1st - In goal among all-time Canucks defenceman with 87 goals

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