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How Swede it is

by Brian Croce / New York Islanders
Sweden is home to the blonde hair, blue eyes, the number five women’s soccer team in the world, Dolph Lundgren (of Rocky IV fame) and a slew of high-quality hockey talent. Now, a couple of the Islanders recent draft picks could be the next best thing to come out of Sweden.

Johan Sundstrom and David Ullstrom have come to North America after playing in the Swedish Elite League and are now looking to take the next step in their hockey careers. Both Swedes have noticed a vast difference in the two leagues’ style of play.

“In Sweden there’s not a lot of fighting so that was a new thing for me,” Ullstrom said. “The game is faster here. You have to make decisions faster. The biggest thing is off the ice with a new lifestyle, new people and a new language.”

Johan Sundstrom skates at Islanders Mini-Camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
Sundstrom, the Islanders second-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Level Draft, said he’s excited to begin his transition to North American hockey. He’s receiving a crash course this week along with 40 other young skaters.

“The intensity is higher in these practices,” Sundstrom said. “Go to the net, shoot the puck, block the goalie - it’s North American hockey and I like it.”

Sundstrom is participating in his first NHL mini-camp at the age of 18. He said it has been a long time since he has been on the ice, so the past two days have been good for him. After his team wrapped up their second on-ice practice today, he said the main focus was shooting and skating drills, which he enjoyed. He is also having a great time at camp so far.

“(The experience) has been awesome,” Sundstrom said. “Back in Sweden, it’s not the same thing. Here there is more speed and a more team-oriented practice. It’s a great group made up of great guys.”

Ullstrom was a fourth-round selection in 2008 and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Islanders in 2010. The current Bridgeport Sound Tiger is making the most of his time at camp and has recently stepped into a leadership role in the organization.

“It’s my fourth camp here, so I’m one of the guys and I want to try to be responsible out there and look after the younger guys,” Ullstrom said. “It’s been fun. It’s a new role for me, but it’s been great.”

One of the new guys that Ullstrom is looking out for is Sundstrom. When the Islanders prospects went on a fishing trip in Huntington on Tuesday, Sundstrom said he received some advice from his fellow countryman.

“We talked a lot and he (Ullstrom) explained everything here,” Sundstrom said.  “(He said) just enjoy it and do your best.”

Ullstrom has been taking his own advice in recent months as he has been trying to improve his strength and conditioning this off-season. He said he must build muscle in order to take the next step to the NHL.

“I have to get bigger and stronger, so I’ve been working hard with (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Jesse Demers,” Ullstrom said. “That’s been great. Then (after camp) I go home for a month but I’m heading back early for training camp too. So I’m spending a lot of time here. I think it will be good for me in the future.”

He is looking to improve upon his first season in Bridgeport last year where he finished fourth on the team in points and goals and ranked fifth on the team in assists (17goals, 24assits). Ullstrom wants to continue improving his game with the Sound Tigers and help the team get some wins in the process.

“It was a fun year there,” Ullstrom said. “We didn’t do as good as a team that we wanted to. Obviously we wanted to make the playoffs, but for myself, I thought I had a good year.”

David Ullstrom skates at Islanders Mini-Camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
He continued, “I started off pretty slow, but after Christmas I was more comfortable and I was making those plays I wanted to make. (I wanted to) play on the power play and play more than 20 minutes a night. I did that last year and I felt way more comfortable getting into this year.”

For Sundstrom, this week is important to become acquainted with the team and pick up as many tips as possible.

“There are a lot of things I have to work on, but I see this more as getting to know the organization and meet all of the guys, the General Manager and the coaches,” Sundstrom said. “They want to help me and I want to be here.”

The two Swedes will square off against each other on Saturday at the Blue and White Scrimmage & Skills Competition. Ullstrom will play for the White Team while Sundstrom will make his Long Island debut on the Blue Team. For Sundstrom, this will be his first meeting with the Islanders faithful and it’s something he’s highly anticipating.

“I’m really looking forward to playing the game,” Sundstrom said. I will play my best and me and my linemates will do our best out there.”
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