Anton Stralman snickered a bit when asked about his defencemate and fellow Swede Jonas Frogren.
“I told him on a flight the other day, ‘I’ve been sitting beside you on the last six flights and every time, you’ve had at least one bag of ice on some part of your body.’ He would block a shot with his face if he had to. That’s the kind of commitment we need.”
There is no shortage in commitment with the 28-year-old Frogren. The last Leaf defenceman with his kind of courage was Dmitry Yushkevich, the Russian godfather of a rocked-ribbed tandem with Danny Markov
The Leafs signed Frogren as a free-agent after being impressed with his rugged play in the World Hockey Championships.
Frogren has prospered as a down and dirty defensive defenceman.
“My type of skill is to try to play tough and help our goalie,” Frogren said. “I hope Toronto signed me for that. If they signed me to score it was a big mistake.”
“We’ve dialed down his running around,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “The first few practices all he wanted to do is run around and hit people out there. He didn’t care about the puck. How many Swedish defencemen have you ever said that about?"
Of late, Frogren was teamed with the 22-year-old Stralman and it’s the old story, beauty and the beast. Stralman’s game is built on faultless skating and passing. Frogren isn’t pretty…unless you think carnage is attractive. He is minus one with one shot on goal and drawing about 17 minutes a night unless you count the 22:30 he logged in the Leafs 1-0 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Friday.
Frogren spent nine years playing with Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League. Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the eighth round of the 1998 entry draft, he always harboured a desire to play in the NHL.
“I’m 28. I worked hard and I never gave up. This is like a dream come true for me. I think there have been better players than me who never got the chance. I should be very happy for this opportunity and I’m going to do everything I can every day to help this team.”
Playing the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, facing Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin in Pittsburgh, Frogren insists he is living the dream.
“It’s been unreal. I watched some games on TV in Sweden, but it’s unbelievable to be on the ice here. Some days it takes a while to really understand this is going on.”
Deducing the Leafs defensive pairing will soon get a little harder. Jeff Finger
returns later this week after missing the first five games of the regular season with a bruised foot. Luke Schenn
, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are sure bets. Likely, the same applies for Frogren and Stralman. That leaves Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo and Mike Van Ryn.
The Maple Leafs, 1-2-2 host Anaheim on Tuesday. They are in Boston on Thursday and host Ottawa on Saturday.