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The Swede Life

by Doug Ward / Los Angeles Kings

It’s been six years since Mattias Norstrom called El Segundo home, but the 41-year-old Swede still knows his way around the Kings training facility. The erstwhile Kings captain, in town to work on a feature about hockey in California that will air on Swedish TV, wanders into an empty Kings locker room and takes a seat at his old stall, the one that currently belongs to Drew Doughty.

Norstrom, who now lives in his native Sweden, watched Doughty and the Kings as they steamrolled their way to the Stanley Cup last spring with equal amounts of pride and envy.

“I was so happy to see it happen,” Norstrom said of the Kings long-awaited Cup triumph. “I envied them and thought, ‘I would love to be there in LA and be part of a team to win the Cup.’”

But, Norstrom is not living in the past.

“I do feel like I am part of the Kings franchise,” he said. “But I am a strong believer that the Cup belongs to the players that are here now. It came together for that group at that point, not because of history, or because of what I did here, or Luc (Robitaille), or Rob Blake. It’s the group that was here last year that did it, no one else.”

Norstrom does not spend much time looking back, probably because he has so much going on in the present. In fact, one of Norstrom’s objectives today is to make sure players don’t get caught up believing their careers will last forever.

In addition to doing TV work in Sweden, Norstrom offers financial advice for athletes. His guiding principle is to provide the kind of advice he wished he had received while he was still playing.

“I wish I had more guidance when I was young to help plan for the future,” he said. “When you are 21, you think you will live forever and the money tree is in the backyard. I was very fortunate that I had a 14-year career. Some guys, you make the roster, you think its forever, but the average career is short. It could be 3-4 years. You start playing around 11 or 12, so education is out the window. You need a plan.”

Norstrom played the game with purpose and that’s how he dispenses advice, offering tips on how to maximize the assets NHL players make as active players.

“You need to change your lifestyle to prepare for the day you don’t have the big income,” he explained. “Then you have to learn to live without the spotlight. One day, people are not asking for you. You are not invited into things. When you are a player you get asked to do things and often you don’t have time. You have to make a plan; maybe you make a commercial and you need to start thinking about whether you could see yourself working for that company after your career is over. Start earlier. Don’t sit back and relax until after your career, start planning early.”

Norstrom has graduated into his post-playing career with relative ease, but says he could have benefited from the kind of advice he now doles out the way he used to deliver hits.

“I have been there,” he said. “I have been the athlete. These are things I was missing or looking for. My heart is with the Kings and I understand after you are done playing, you are always welcome. But they are not going to help you with anything else. They have to look to the young players and develop them. That’s the business. You are a product - don’t forget that. Once you are done, you have to realize that they are not going to hold your hand. You are on your own.”

When he is not advising players on how to handle their post-hockey lives, Norstrom is busy showing them. In addition to his consulting gig, Norstrom works as a host for Sweden’s coverage of NHL hockey.

“I am part of the studio show,” he said. “We have two hockey experts, me and Anders Hedberg from the Winnipeg Jets, and the Rangers. We show a lot of clips and interviews to build a broader understanding of the game. We do a lot of 3D hockey graphics, explaining 3-on-2, or whatever. We talk about the difference between NHL hockey and European hockey.”

In addition to his studio work, Norstrom ventures into the field to file reports for the show. On this visit, he will report on hockey in California.

“To me, California is unique,” said Norstrom, who spent parts of 11 seasons here as a member of the Kings.

Where most hockey hubs grow from a grassroots level, Los Angeles’ ascent to a passionate hotbed of the sport developed from the top down.

“You have a big city like LA, you decide that you want to have hockey here, so you put an NHL team here,” Norstrom said. “From there on, they start building practice facilities, first for the Kings but then for youth hockey and so on. You have development camps, you have youth hockey, and you have kids that are born and raised in California that are being drafted for NHL teams. You are doing it backwards here. In Canada and Sweden, you start with a youth hockey movement and one day you have a senior team that eventually turns into semi-pro and pro hockey. Here it’s a different animal.”

The NHL’s most recent collective bargaining agreement included more Saturday afternoon games, which can be aired live in primetime to European markets.

“NHL hockey is big in Sweden,” Norstrom said. “For the first time ever, the channel that owns the rights for NHL games in Sweden decided to have a studio for Saturday night games. I am doing that on Saturday nights. We are going on five minutes before the game and then a half an hour after.”

Norstrom’s heyday was spent in Los Angeles, but before he was a King, he was part of a Stanley Cup championship. He played in nine regular season games for the New York Rangers’ 1994 Cup winning team.

“That first year with the Rangers, I didn’t contribute much in games,” Norstrom said.

Since he wasn’t playing, Norstrom went to school.

“We had such a super group of guys,” he said. “Mark Messier was the captain, and we had Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, and Jay Wells. That whole group made me feel like I was an important piece of the puzzle. I learned so much that year about the concept of team and how you treat everybody involved around the team.”

Norstrom was part of a Stanley Cup championship in New York and finished up in Dallas, but it’s clear his hockey heart remains in Los Angeles.

“The Kings are my team,” Norstrom said. “I spent 11 years here. I have friends I still talk with – Luc, Rob Blake, Nelson Emerson, and Glen Murray. They are all from my time with the Kings.”

When Norstrom does look back on his time in Los Angeles, he likes what he sees.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the Kings and what it turned into,” He said. “It has evolved since I stepped into the locker room at the Great Western Forum in ’96. It’s a different animal today. Every step is a step in the right direction with this franchise. Winning the Cup is a product of that.”

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