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Bolts Notebook: Stralman returns to Tampa a world champion

The Lightning defenseman picked up international hardware this offseason

by Bryan Burns /

With the NHL offseason rapidly coming to a close, Tampa Bay Lightning players have been steadily making their way back to the Bay Area.

Once in town, most head over to the Bolts' practice facility to take part in daily informal workouts before the start of training camp.

Arriving at the Ice Sports Forum this week, among others, was defenseman Anton Stralman, who, along with Lightning teammate Victor Hedman, played an integral role in helping Sweden to the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Championships in May, the Swedes' 10th goal medal all-time and first since 2013. Stralman played in all 10 games for Sweden, posting four assists, tied for third amongst all Swedish players, and a plus-eight rating, tied with Hedman for second on the team.

In the championship game at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, Sweden won 2-1 in a shootout over Canada, coached by Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.

"It was pretty incredible," Stralman said of the experience. "I think, especially the reception we got when we got back to Sweden, was out of this world. I don't think any of us could have thought that many people would come out to celebrate with us and really receive us in a magnificent way. And just the tournament itself was special. It's a fairly long tournament. It's a lot of games. To go through it with the group we had and the characters on that team, it was a treat to be on that team with a lot of good players, and we had a lot of fun."

Video: Anton Stralman on how he spent his offseason

Stralman had a few weeks off between the end of the Lightning season on April 9 and the start of the World Championships on May 5 and found it difficult to strike a balance between resting from the NHL season and staying in competitive shape. But, much as he is on the Lightning, Stralman was a workhorse for the Swedes, ranking second only to Hedman for time on ice. In the gold medal game against Canada, Stralman logged 29:08 over 47 shifts and was plus-one.

"The setup was great for the tournament," Stralman said. "The people came out. The crowd was awesome, especially in Germany where we were situated for most of the tournament."

BUDAJ BACK: Goaltender Peter Budaj came to Tampa Bay via the trade deadline deal that sent Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings and was set to become a free agent this offseason.

Before he hit the market, however, Budaj signed a two-year deal to remain with the Lightning. The 34-year-old said he never wanted to leave the Lightning after going 4-3-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in seven starts with the Bolts and was focused on getting a new deal done to remain with Tampa Bay.

"This is a great organization, a successful organization so far," Budaj said. "We know what's our goal. I know what everybody wants to do here in Tampa from the staff to the players. We want to start making the playoffs and then go all the way. That's what our goal is and that's what we want to prepare. So definitely, I wanted to come back here."

Video: DAL@TBL: Budaj robs Stars twice with great pad saves

Budaj enters 2017-18 as the clear backup to starter Andrei Vasilevskiy, a position he's quite comfortable with. Prior to being dealt to the Bolts, Budaj backed up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles before Quick was injured and Budaj was thrust into the starter's role.

He subsequently put up career numbers for the Kings, collecting 27 wins and seven shutouts.

The thought is, Budaj can serve as a valuable mentor to Vasilevskiy, who will be going through his first full season as a full-time starter in the NHL.

"I think he's just going to get better," Budaj said of Vasilevskiy. "He wants to work hard. He wants to compete. He's a good learner. We try to push each other on the ice. He works really hard. I try to work hard. We have a good dynamic, and I'm enjoying working with him."

KUNITZ DRAWS PRAISE: Talking with a number of Lightning defensemen, almost to a man, all of them are happy to have Chris Kunitz on their bench this season and not the opposition's.

For starters, Kunitz has won four Stanley Cups during his 13-year NHL career and brings a wealth of veteran leadership to the Bolts' locker room.

And secondly, Lightning defensemen are happy to not have to go up against Kunitz, notorious for being one of the harder players to play against in the league.

"I feel fortunate to have him on my team this time and not chasing my back," Stralman said. "He's a great player. He can play in all situations and obviously has four rings, so he definitely knows what it takes."

Kunitz has been a thorn in the Bolts' side over the past few seasons, particularly during the 2016 Eastern Conference Championship when he scored a goal in three-consecutive games - Games 3, 4 and 5 - and was tied for the Penguins' scoring lead in the series with three goals and three assists.

Braydon Coburn said he and Kunitz have shared war stories during informal workouts about battles the two have taken part in over the years, particularly when Coburn was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Added Coburn: "It's good to be on his team this year."

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