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A Family affair: The Hedmans and Swedish hockey

Bryan Burns found out why the Lightning's Norris Trophy winner might not even be the best defensemen in his own family

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

With the World Junior Championships coming to its conclusion Saturday - Finland scoring the game-winner 1:26 from overtime to beat the U.S. 3-2 - I'm reminded of a story Olle Hedman told me during a mid-November practice at Nashville's Centennial Sportsplex.

Olle Hedman is the father of Victor Hedman, the Lightning's hulking 6-foot-6 Swedish defenseman who leads the backline and was named the best at his craft last season by winning the league's Norris Trophy.

Olle was one of about 20 fathers pulled in from around the globe to experience life as their NHL sons do on the team's annual fathers' trip. That means: sleeping in the same hotels, riding the bus to and from training sessions and games, dinners, receptions, morning skates and, of course, the games (the fathers also had some fun too, touring the Grand Ole Opry while their sons pre-game napped). The Lightning were practicing in Nashville a day ahead of their marquee matchup versus the Predators, at the time, a meeting of one versus two in the league standings, earning the overused "Stanley Cup preview" tag from national media.

Victor Hedman wasn't practicing that Sunday in Nashville, needing a body-maintenance day to recover from a physical 6-5 overtime victory in Philadelphia a day earlier. And, just eight days prior, he had returned from an upper-body injury stemming from a brutally painful hit delivered by Vegas' 225-pound enforcer Ryan Reaves that forced him out of commission for nearly two weeks. Olle Hedman had more free time than the other dads since there was no son on the ice for him to watch. So after puttering over to the other side of the rink next to the bench and the players' backup sticks all taped up and ready to go if needed and making small talk with the Bolts' equipment managers - Olle, after all, was a well-known, long-tenured equipment manager himself for MoDo hockey, of the Swedish Elite League during his time, in the Hedmans' hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, and piloted Victor's older brothers Johan and Oscar through the MoDo ranks (Oscar, a defenseman, still plays for them currently and is in his 10th season with the pro team) - Olle Hedman walked over to me and pulled out his phone.

Video: The Bolts' Dads joined the team on a recent road trip

On his screensaver, a picture of Victor in his Team Sweden Tre Kronor sweater holding a gold medal in between Johan, eight years older than Victor, and Oscar, four years Victor's elder. Big grins on all three faces and, I'm almost positive, on the proud papa picture taker.

Earlier in the day before the picture, Victor had spearheaded Sweden's 2-1 shootout victory over Canada in the title game of the 2017 World Championships, a game that also featured Anton Stralman for Sweden and Brayden Point and Alex Killorn for Canada from the Lightning. Victor scored a second period shorthanded goal that put the Swedes up 1-0. Sweden would party all summer after winning its first Gold Medal in the competition since 2013 and defended its title the following year. Olle thumbed through his camera roll and showed me pictures from the celebration.

"It was in Stockholm first and then they come home," Olle said. "Victor had the trophy with him at home, so we had a party at his house."

There are pictures of Olle's grandkids (three boys, one girl), Victor drinking champagne out of the championship trophy, hikes through the woods, Swedish landscape, pictures of the camper he and his wife Elizabeth take through the Swedish countryside.

It all looked so idyllic.

It's easy to see how Victor Hedman remains humble, salt of the Earth, despite his fame as a NHL superstar.

"I'm proud of course, but he's still our little Victor, the little brother," Olle says.

Here's where we get to the story. Olle then tells me how Oscar was once a defenseman partner of Lightning blueliner Anton Stralman as part of the Swedish Junior National during the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. Later they faced off against one another as players on rival teams in the Swedish Elite League. Olle Hedman has a program from one of those games back home in Sweden, in its pages contained an interview with Stralman.

The questions are light-hearted, a kind of getting to know you type of piece. Best pre-game meal? Favorite band? If you weren't playing hockey, what would you be doing?

One of the questions posed to Stralman: Who was the best defenseman partner you ever played with?

Stralman's answer?

Oscar Hedman

"I think (Victor) still uses that since I haven't done another one of those," Stralman says, chuckling.

"He went from one Hedman to another," Victor adds.

Pretty amazing how life always seem to come full circle.

"Back then, Oscar was really strong defensively," Stralman remembers. "He was a big guy back then too. Super solid. And I at that time was way more offensively (minded) than I maybe am now. I think it was a good pairing, very similar to how me and Heddy are with him being more offensively minded and me more defensively. It was a little more the opposite with me and Oscar."

Johan Hedman, the oldest of the three Hedman boys, played professional in Sweden before retiring following the 2013-14 season and is now a coach in the south of Sweden

Victor, as we are all aware, turned out pretty good too. Olle remembers his youngest son always being big for his age, which made him a pretty good hockey goalie it turns out. Soccer goalie too.

But not the strongest skater.

"He skated like a moose," Olle said. "He had to develop the muscles for the skating."

The famous story about having to entice Victor to stop playing goalie with the proposition of a new helmet?

"His mother told him that. Yeah, that's true," Ollie said.

At age 14, Victor stopped playing soccer and focused his athletic pursuits on hockey and was called up to play with the older players. That's when he started blossoming into the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman that has dazzled Lightning fans for 10 seasons now since being selected by the organization with the second overall pick at the 2009 NHL Draft.

"Then it was like a rocket. Just took off," Olle said.

On Tuesday when Tampa Bay hosts Columbus at AMALIE Arena, Victor Hedman will tie Pavel Kubina for most games played for the Lightning by a defenseman. He'll suit up for his 662nd contest. He already owns Lightning defensemen records for goals (87), assists (303) and points (390). He's closing in on the blueline marks for power-play scoring - at 120 points, he's six behind Dan Boyle - and game-winning goals, trailing Kubina by eight.
If all goes according to plan, Victor will become Tampa Bay's all-time games leader among defenseman Thursday at home versus Carolina.

Olle won't be there. He's in Sweden at his job at the local paper mill. He says he works 12-hour shifts, either 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or vice versa for two or three days and then has two or three days off. After three weeks working that schedule, he gets 18 days off. The schedule allows him to watch most Lightning games and his son on TV, except when he's working the night shift (the games end about the time he's getting off his shift).

He's thinking of retiring in the summer.

"I'll be 63 in February," he said.

Then maybe more trips to Tampa.

Perhaps one around early June and a chance to upgrade that iPhone screensaver with another celebration picture of his three sons, this time holding a different trophy.

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