That’s because his wife, Maria, is from Sweden.
“I understand quite a bit, but I don’t speak very much,” says Ritchie. “I’ve got to learn. The pressure is on.” The two of them have a one-year-old son, Ryder, and Maria often speaks Swedish to him. So Ritchie is doing what he can to make sure he keeps up with the new language.
“I have a Swedish course that I haven’t opened yet, so hopefully I can get onto that,” he says.
While Ritchie might not speak too much Swedish, it’s not too difficult to find someone around the Vancouver Canucks dressing room who does. The roster is stacked with Swedish players – five in all – Markus Naslund, Mattias Ohlund, Alexander Edler
, Daniel Sedin
, and Henrik Sedin
That’s the second largest contingent of Swedish players in the NHL, next to the Detroit Red Wings. And considering there are only about 40 Swedes in the league right now, Vancouver’s a pretty appealing place to be for anyone who wants to speak their language.
That’s good if Ritchie decides to test out his Swedish conversation skills on his teammates, and it’s also helpful for Maria. “It definitely helps that there are Swedish people here, for her sake,” says Ritchie.
While moving to Vancouver was a return home for the 30-year-old from Burnaby, it’s pretty far from Maria’s native Sweden, so having some people from her own country makes it feel a bit more like home.
The two met during the lockout season while Ritchie was playing hockey in Sweden with the Rogle team. The summer before that hockey started, he went to visit his friend, Marcus Nilsson. The two had played together in Florida through the 2001-02 to 2003-04 seasons before Nilson was traded to the Flames, where they were ultimately reunited after the lockout.
“I thought it rained a lot. It was a cold summer,” says Ritchie about Sweden. Perhaps that’s why Vancouver has attracted so many Swedes to its team – it makes them feel at home.
Despite the weather, Ritchie enjoyed his visit to Scandinavia. “I spent a lot of time at [Nilson’s] cabin just relaxing and stuff, so it was nice,” says Ritchie. “And then I ended up going back in September for the year to play there.”
Ritchie played for Rogle, in the tier just below Sweden’s top division. He notched 33 points in 30 games, and had a good time doing it.
“I enjoyed it tremendously,” says Ritchie. “It’s a hugely different style of play. A lot of skating, and a lot of puck handling, and stuff which was a lot of fun for me. Different from over here obviously, but I enjoyed it, and I thought it was great for my development.”
Hopefully Ritchie can continue his development with the Canucks. And if he impresses his five Swedish teammates on the ice, maybe they’ll give him a little language tutorial to help him impress his Swedish mate at home.