Jonas Frogren is homesick.
You don’t expect to hear that from a 28-year-old man, but Frogren is as tender off the ice as he is tough on it.
He played for Sweden’s Farjestads BK Karlstad team for nine years and while he had some international experience, life in the NHL has been a great awakening, a source of wonderment and heartache.
“Of course, I miss my home, my family and my friends. I had a house built in the country last year,” he said.
Frogren’s girlfriend has come to live with him in Toronto. He uses an internet service and video camera to correspond every day or two with the people back home.
“My being away makes us sad but we catch up,” he said.
Hockey has long been home to tender-hearted players who were plenty tough on the ice but there is an astonishing openness in Jonas Frogren who had all but given up on his ambition to play in the NHL before the Leafs signed him last summer on the heels of an impressive performance in the World Hockey Championship.
Frogren is an incredibly amiable man, nice even for a Swede whose citizens enjoy a reputation worldwide for civility and kindness.
And while the call of home tugs at him, Frogren is living and loving the dream.
Everything, from the travel to the great cities to the chocolates left on his pillow at night in the best hotels, from the flights on the club’s private plane to the quality of the rinks, everything, he said, has been consistently, unimaginably great.
In the Swedish league, he said, periods start slow and build up toward the end. “Here, the whole 20 minutes flies by. The players are all skilled and tough. I love the game here.
“You get to go to see fantastic cities like New York and Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s so much to take in. I think I’ll be able to understand it more over the summer, with time”
Frogren enjoyed 20 minutes of ice time for the first time since October 18 as the Leafs handled Ottawa, Saturday. His game is as subtle as a brick through a plate glass window. He blocks shots with any piece of anatomy he has on hand. He is the first player to stick his nose in any scrum even if he doesn’t seem to understand the inherent danger. When he waded into a skirmish in Washington Caps captain Chris Clark speedbagged him with two shots to the chops from a gloved hand before Frogren bothered to utter a harsh word.
“He didn’t hit me so hard,” Frogren shrugged. “It was just hugging.”
When you ask Frogren what hurts right now, he always points to a different spot. Monday, after practice, he entered the dressing room after practice with dried blood from a fresh cut on his right cheek.
“Did you cut yourself shaving?” someone asked.
“Nah,” he said. “Puck. It was deflected and went into my face.”
“Playing with Froggy is fun,” said Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger
. “He backs up his teammates all over the ice and makes the simple plays. I love playing with a guy like that.”
Teammates on his national Swedish team gave Frogren the nickname ‘Fridge’ and it fits. He is an impossibly wide man, with ham hocks for hands and a forehead laying in wait for a bumper sticker.
But, he is also changing the flavor of a Leafs defence that is high on skill but light on menace. Frogren will get plenty of work against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, but his minutes will be offset at least in part by ice time given to Luke Schenn
who is playing his first game back from a leg injury.
The pace of Mike Van Ryn’s return remains indeterminate as he recovers from a concussion but with Ian White, Finger, Pavel Kubina, Jamie Sifers and Tomas Kaberle playing well, the blue line figures to be crowded until the trading deadline.
Frogren cost the Leafs nothing to acquire. Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the eighth round in 1998, Frogren never got the chance to hook on with the Flames and his steady progress through the season is enough to indicate the Leafs may have made a find. The club hasn’t had a courageous, irritating defensive pillar since Dmitry Yushkevich left in 2002.
If Frogren is that player, he will be an immensely popular on a rebuilding team. If he isn’t, he still gives the Leafs some material to parlay into a contender.
Either way, Jonas Frogren, will go about his business, making friends off the ice and enemies on it.