By Stephanie Maniago
When general manager Pat Quinn took to the stage at the 1994 Entry Draft, everyone waited in anticipation to hear who Vancouver was going to select with its No. 1 pick. Quinn stepped up to the podium and made the announcement: Swedish defenceman Mattias Ohlund would be the newest member of the Vancouver Canucks.
Ohlund came loaded with good credentials, but a junior career is not always indicative of how one will play in the NHL. Little did one know then that the 6'2", 209 pound (who has now added 11 pounds of muscle to his frame) player would emerge into one of the league's premier defencemen.
As a 20-year-old, Ohlund was transplanted to Vancouver in 1997. Being from the far-northern Swedish town of Pitea (the same as former Canuck D-man Lars Lindgren), he admits there were some challenges in adjusting to a new city, language and culture. But there were also other aspects of the move with which he immediately fell in love. "The best part about Vancouver," Mattias proclaims, "is that we can have weather that's plus 10 degrees downtown, but you drive for 20 minutes to Cypress and you can ski."
The first few years of Mattias' career were filled with personal success, but the team struggled. The exposure to other NHL cities, the way in which the team eventually improved and the friendships developed, though, made for an enjoyable experience overall. During those early years, Mattias roomed with Dave Scatchard, who Mattias names, alongside Tomas Holmstrom, as his best friends (other than current teammates) in the league.
While he has become very close to a number of former teammates, on both the Canucks and Swedish national teams, Ohlund doesn't find it difficult to put on his game face and compete against them. "We play so many games, so many times that it doesn't affect me," says Mattias of facing off against his friends. It's apparent that Mattias always takes a professional stance towards hockey both on and off the ice.
Mattias rooms with Trevor Linden, a perfect match considering they are both huge sports fans. It's a good thing as it prevents any fights over the remote between the roommates of six years. Of particular interest to the two roomies is the game of basketball. But perhaps that is because they are two of the tallest guys on the team
Who did the hard working, reserved Swede list as his favourite basketball player? That would be "The Answer", the player who's the polar opposite of Ohlund, the infamous Allen Iverson. "I like the way he plays," says Ohlund. "He's very entertaining on the court." While he has never met any current NBA players, Mattias and some of his teammates have had the opportunity to watch an NBA game this season in Denver and there are plans in the works to catch a game in Dallas and Los Angeles, if time permits.
Ohlund's appreciation for basketball did not develop when he moved to Vancouver, which at that time had the NBA Grizzlies, but rather stems back to his childhood. "Back home in Sweden, even though it's not the NBA, we have basketball," the defenceman explains. "It's always been a game I've liked to watch since I was young."
At 6'2" (about five inches shorter than the average NBA player), Ohlund never played organized basketball. He did, however, join in pick up games with his buddies during the summer. I'm sure all Canucks fans would agree, it's a good thing organized hockey took precedence.
During the summer, Mattias also often enjoys hitting the links, but admits playing consecutive rounds on consecutive days is a bit too much. "Nine holes would be perfect," says Mattias half-jokingly. "My patience isn't good enough to play much longer."
The game in itself is not the sole reason Mattias plays. "I think it's very enjoyable on a nice summer day," Ohlund explains. "It's not just the golf, it's also getting to spend quality time with your friends."
Mattias and wife Linda have adjusted quite nicely to the Canadian lifestyle. They are very fond of the various outdoor activities in which they can partake throughout the year while enjoying the natural beauty of the city.
However, it is still important to both of them to celebrate their Swedish heritage. "We speak Swedish at home all of the time," says Mattias. "Our kids are 7 and 5 and I guess in the last few years, we've noticed that they speak more English than Swedish. Even though our home is in Vancouver, we like to keep up our Swedish because we still have a lot of friends and family in Sweden, who we visit every summer."
While it may not seem like Ohlund has been around that long (especially considering he logs an average of over 25 minutes of ice time per game),Mattias is the third-longest serving Canuck. Only Trevor Linden (15 seasons) and Markus Naslund (11 seasons), have more tenure. He has literally grown up before Canucks fans' eyes, but during his nine campaigns with the team, he remains as down to earth as the day he first came to the NHL.
If anyone epitomizes the NHL's 2006-07 "Just like you and me" TV promos, it's Mattias Ohlund. Above all, he values time with his family, playing the odd golf game, and is, quite simply, an average guy. Well, other than the fact that at various times he helped lead Sweden to a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics, was an NHL All-Star and a Calder Trophy finalist. But despite all that, "Oly" remains ever so humble and solidly grounded. And while many around the league have deemed him one of the "most underrated defencemen in the league," there's no doubt that Canucks fans appreciate his skills and will keenly continue to monitor his progress.