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Burnside: Andersen's Journey To Carolina

The time that was, the reset that took place and his start in Raleigh

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

RALEIGH, NC - This is Frederik Andersen's first hockey memory.

Being in the locker room after his father Ernst completed a game or practice.

The goalie pads were softer in those days, filled with deer hair for the most part, and they made a great perch for a small boy whose father was something of a legend in Denmark when it came to hockey.

And not just hockey but specifically a kind of legend when it came to goaltending in Denmark.

There is sometimes a conceit in North American hockey communities that the game is uniquely part of their DNA, and the fact the game seems to course through their veins separates them from others.

The images are indelible, undeniable if you are a hockey person.

Wayne Gretzky and his dad Walter in their backyard rink in Brantford, Ontario.

Sidney Crosby firing pucks into the dryer under the watchful eye of father Troy in the family home in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

The Staal boys on the rink adjacent to the family sod farm in freezing Thunder Bay, Ontario, father Henry acting as a kind of personal rink attendant making sure the ice was just so.

Those stories make up the grain of the game, polished shiny over generations.

But those kinds of moments are not, as it turns out, specific to North America. Even in Herning in central Denmark, home to the locally famous Blue Fox hockey club, such transformative moments aren't just possible but numerous.

Just the extended Andersen family reflects a long and deep affection for and connection to the game.

Andersen's father played for years in Herning, and then went into coaching both locally and at the national level and is currently helping with the women's national team in Denmark. 

Andersen's mother played (she was a forward) as did his aunt and uncle - both were goalies.

His cousin Emma-Sofie Nordstrom is a top goaltender.

Andersen's younger brother, Valdemar, 16, is also a goaltender.

His sister, Amalie? And brother Sebastian? Black sheep. Amelie plays defense for the University of Maine and Sebastian is also a defenseman.

Andersen grins. Okay, not everyone plays goal in the extended Andersen clan but there are a lot. Not that his father pushed him to follow him between the pipes. In fact just the opposite.

"My dad had me on skates before I even have a recollection of it," Andersen recalled. But Ernst Andersen insisted that Frederik skate and play other positions. Still, Andersen always gravitated to the goal regardless of whether he was technically supposed to be there or not, as was often the case during open skates when a young Andersen would be in the goal trying to stop the puck even if he was wearing regular gear.

"I kept begging him until I think I was nine or 10 and he finally said okay you can go try and play it," Andersen said.

His father was the goaltending coach for the club in Herning and once a week the goaltenders from the different age levels would gather for practice. The equipment was handed down from older to younger and it was always an exciting time when it was your turn to wear the cool equipment.

Countryman Frans Nielsen's younger brother, Simon, is a goaltender and good friend of Andersen's.

"He had a set (of equipment) that was good and then he had a new set so I think I got those pads. I remember thinking that was like awesome," Andersen recalled.

And then there was the time his father brought home a new set of gloves for his eldest son to try.

"But he actually kind of made me earn them a little bit. I forget the number but I had to do a certain amount of pushups the first few days," Andersen said. "I was only allowed to try once a day, and the first couple of days I fell just short but a few days in I finally pushed through. So that was nice."

Not that we should confuse his workouts with Rocky Balboa preparing to fight Apollo Creed - "I don't think I worked that hard," Andersen said with a grin. "But it was a small lesson in earning it and appreciating it."

Even now Andersen and his father remain close, with Ernst texting after every game and his parents reading and listening to everything they could about their son and the Maple Leafs during his tenure in Toronto.

Sometimes he would suggest they not follow too closely what was being said or written.

"First of all it's not always true," Andersen said. "And if you need to know something, you can just ask me. Get it straight from me."

"They're big fans, right, so they want to get the news and consume all the content they can. It's a fine line," he added.

Andersen chuckles but there is more than a little truth to the advice given his family.

Lessons learned and appreciating your circumstance is something that Andersen knows well and those lessons have put him in a unique position as he begins a new chapter in his National Hockey League career.



We're sitting in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room, the music blaring around the team's new starting netminder. A day after this conversation Andersen will stop 33 Boston shots to guide the 'Canes to a franchise-record sixth straight win to start the season and earn his first shutout as a Hurricane. Andersen has been the starter in all of them. He'll add another win on the final day of the month to help his new team and teammates to a perfect 8-0-0 October and be named the third star of the month by the NHL. The new month has started with more of the same, a ninth consecutive win for the club backstopped by Andersen.

No one plans a Stanley Cup parade in November though. But that the Hurricanes have remained the last unbeaten team in the NHL speaks to questions answered and answered emphatically.

GM Don Waddell acknowledged that the team made a series of moves that many might have considered risky coming off a disappointing playoff defeat in the second round to eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Petr Mrazek, one of the leaders in the team's unexpected march to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, ended up in Toronto having signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Leafs. Rookie of the Year finalist Alex Nedeljkovic was dealt to Detroit, wiping the goaltending slate clear in Carolina. In their place Antti Raanta, late of Arizona, and Andersen who had finished last season in street clothes after a knee injury kept him out of Toronto's epic first-round collapse against Montreal, arrived via free agency.

Waddell didn't know Andersen but found a pattern of responses when he was doing his due diligence on the 32-year-old.

"Everybody I talked to said the same thing," Waddell said. "Will fit in with your team, players will like him, and when players like their goalies they like to play for their goalies. The message I got was pretty much dead on now that he's here and I've had a chance to be around him. He's an easy going guy."

"I love the way he's patient in the net. He doesn't ever look like he's scrambling," added Waddell. "He's a big goalie; takes up a lot of net. Everything that we knew about him, everything that everybody said about him personally, he's lived up to all that."

Before Andersen could begin the process of making his way with a new organization, new teammates and coaches, he had to first make his way with himself.

He calls this past off-season a "reset".

Even though it was unsettling waiting to find out where he was going to make his new hockey home after it became clear there wasn't a path forward with Toronto, Andersen found comfort in a return to familiar surroundings in the off-season in California.

After spending the previous off-season in Toronto, Andersen returned to regular workouts with high profile trainer and sports psychologist Scot Prohaska.

The two have been working out since Andersen made the jump from the American Hockey League to the NHL, and Andersen credits Prohaska with helping him understand and develop the mental tools needed to succeed at the game's highest level.

"He's really smart on that sort of stuff. He'll find out a way to make everyone better, any athlete," Andersen said. "That first summer was probably the biggest of my career and my life in terms of just learning. You have to learn what it takes, how hard you have to work, how you have to to be structured and how actually dedicated you've got to be to receive progress in your training. And once you do that it will happen. You will see yourself."

And so this off-season was about two intrinsically linked elements of Andersen's game: getting healthy, and getting back into a frame of mind that would allow him to put behind him the disappointments of the past couple of seasons in the pressure cooker that is the Toronto market.

In some ways that meant continuing on a path he started down as a rookie.

"I think over the years just learning more and more about myself and what makes me successful I think," Andersen said. "Especially going through a couple of rough years, especially last year in Toronto was just not my best year and I kind of got away from the way I normally can play. I think this summer, along with looking at some video and working on getting my body healthy again, was huge too. Just take a step back and realize actually how good I could be and how easy."

Here he pauses looking for the right way to frame what was an important moment in preparing for this season.

"It's not easy, but it feels easier when you're in control of your game," he explained. "I think that's just understanding that part of me and helping me make things not so hard for myself."

Andersen also worked with an osteopath in California as he tried to rehabilitate the knee injury that cost him the latter part of the season. 

"To correct everything and help me regain that health," Andersen said. "So, yeah it was a lot of work this summer. I'm glad I did it and glad I stuck with it because it wasn't until I got on the ice again that I started to feel like myself again. That was a big relief once I started to skate."

No one has seen as many goaltenders come and go in Carolina as longtime analyst and former netminder Tripp Tracy. He remains good friends with longtime Carolina goalie Cam Ward, and as it turns out, Andersen reached out to Ward to talk about the team and the community after signing with the 'Canes.

"I think it speaks to the professional nature of Freddie," Tracy said. "Both in terms of the respect he has for Ward's history with the team, but also making use of every resource available to him to get as comfortable as quickly as possible in his new surroundings."

"Cam told me the moment that we signed him that he thought Freddie would play very well here," Tracy said.

Ward, it turns out, was spot on.

Through his first eight starts as a Hurricane Andersen has a .949 save percentage (SV%) and 1.50 goals against average (GAA). In five starts he has allowed one goal or fewer.

Tracy also thought the fit would be a good one, although he has been surprised by some elements of Andersen's game.

"I knew about the calmness. That part does not surprise me," Tracy said. "But I had no idea that his feet were so quick. And so mechanically sound for a big man."

Usually that kind of quickness and dedication to angles is seen with smaller goaltenders like Nashville starter Juuse Saros.

"The angling that (Andersen) has in his feet is excellent," Tracy said. Secondly there has been the rebound control.

Tracy pointed to a difficult save in Sunday's 2-1 win over Arizona on a partial break that Andersen blockered away from the dangerous parts of the ice. 

"He rotated the wrist and punted the puck with authority," Tracy said. "That was a challenging save that he made look like a cakewalk."

That skill goes hand in hand with the way Andersen tracks pucks.

"Watching him at practice I cannot get over how every save, even in practice, he tracks every puck with his eyes," Tracy said.

In terms of perspective, Kevin Weekes might have as on the whole Frederik Andersen dynamic as anyone in the game. 

Weekes grew up in Toronto and as a long-time national analyst currently with ESPN and The NHL Network, Weekes understands just how different the Toronto market is from every other NHL and maybe every other pro sports market. And having played for the Hurricanes during his NHL career - one of seven NHL teams Weekes toiled for - he has a great grasp of the evolution of the team and the marketplace.

"I felt like it was going to be at this stage of his career a great environment for him," Weekes said.

Weekes feels the Hurricanes are one of three teams, along with Florida and two-time defending champion Tampa Bay, that are the most likely teams to come out of the Eastern Conference. Andersen is a big reason for that belief in the Hurricanes.

"The biggest thing for me with Freddie is that he's in an environment where people are very hospitable, they're very welcoming, they're very pleasant, they're charming," Weeks said. "It's an easy environment to be. The environment has good energy and good karma."

"There's no over-flexing," Weekes added. "People aren't trying to bury people. There's not a lot of character assassination, it's just a very nurturing environment. I found that and I loved that about it," added Weekes who was a pivotal part of the Hurricanes march to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002.

Especially for a goaltender this is not a small consideration.

Energy, peace of mind, psychology, "they have to be as balanced out as much as possible," Weekes said. "You don't have to worry about any hyper negativity."



Carolina Hurricanes goaltending coach Paul Schonfelder understands the dynamics of Canadian markets, having worked for a number of years with the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League before working with the Hurricanes' goaltending prospects in the minor pros.

"You know Toronto can be a tough market. If you're playing well and things are going great it's probably a real fun place to play, but if you're going through some adversity it's hard to escape it, right?" Schonfelder said. 

One of the things Schonfelder spoke to Andersen about early in training camp was just how different the vibe was going to be around this team both internally and externally.

"You know you're coming to a place where I feel like you can just take a breath. Just that alone is huge especially for a goalie," Schonfelder said. "You mentioned reset. I think that's true for sure, but again I think it's just come in here and taking a breath and getting back to focusing on your game."

The goaltending coach did not know Andersen when he signed with the Hurricanes, but takes the same approach with the veteran netminder that he does with all of his charges.

"I kind of have an approach with guys, especially with guys that I've never worked with before. I want them to feel like they don't lose their identity as a goalie," Schonfelder said. "I have ideas on how certain things should be played but I also know that they've had success over the years doing what they're doing. So we have conversations about different things, different components about the game, but I don't want them to necessarily come in and me give them an overhaul or change them. So I'm big on that."

"You've had success over the years. I'm not going to jam something down your throat because I think it should be done different," Schonfelder added. "If you're having success with it then keep doing it."

One thing that's struck Schonfelder having worked closely with Andersen now on the ice and watching him in the locker room is just how quickly he moves for a man with a 6-foot-4, 238-pound frame.

"You do your homework before you get them, right? I would say I always felt that he could move well for a guy of his size but I think, just being on the ice with him and getting live looks at him in practice and stuff, it surprised me a bit just on how well he can move. And his mobility and flexibility. And for a guy of that size if you can put yourself in a position to get set and square because of your movement that's a dangerous combination. When he's set and square he's tough to beat." 

This is an important season on so many levels for both Andersen and the Hurricanes, who have ascended quickly from a perennial non-playoff team to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The last two playoff years have ended with promise unfulfilled and the expectations for what might lie ahead have only been heightened by the team's strong start.

And then there's the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

Denmark's men's team has qualified, and if he's healthy, Andersen is looking forward to being part of the first-ever Danish team to play in the men's tournament. And it's possible Beijing will mark a family reunion with his sister, cousin and father hoping to be part of the women's tournament.

Still, when it comes to the Olympics, Andersen is clear what his priority is and that is a Stanley Cup.

"Once I made the NHL I realized that this is the first priority. This is the dream. To lift the Stanley Cup," Andersen said. "Here the main dream is to win but obviously it's always really, really cool to get to represent Denmark. And represent your country. The Olympics now we finally made it, it would be special."

And so we part with this image.

One day not long ago Andersen and Schonfelder went out for lunch. No one approached the two, no one seemed to recognize the big netminder, and if they did they had the courtesy to give Andersen and his lunchmate their own space.

This is part of Andersen's new reality, just as his play has become part of the Hurricanes' new reality. 

Of course if he keeps playing this way, those moments of anonymity might be harder and harder to come by.

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