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Berglund coming of age in St. Louis

by Larry Wigge
Patrik Berglund says there's a video tape -- worn out by repeated use -- back home in Vasteras, Sweden. It's a tape he used to pop into the VCR when he needed a boost.

"It was a 4-3 win by my hometown team that gave them the championship in the second division and a chance to play against the Swedish Elite team. It was 1988 or '89 ... and it was big back home," Berglund said. "Nick Lidstrom was a great defenseman in that game. Obviously, he could do it all. But there was also a center on that team who scored 2 goals and 1 assist in the game. It was my dad.

"I couldn't get enough of that tape. I was just a baby and don't remember seeing him play live, so this was the only way I had to connect with my dad when he played."

This isn't on the level of young American stickhandlers watching the U.S. beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid to set the stage for their gold medal victory. Probably not even as big for a St. Louis fan watching the "Monday Night Miracle" in 1986, when the Blues rallied from way back for an overtime victory against Calgary to extend the Western Conference Final to a Game 7. But for this young Swedish center, it's obvious that this tape has priceless value.

On Oct. 2, Patrick Berglund's dad, his mom, his grandmother, and girlfriend -- in all, about a dozen relatives -- will drive 45 minutes from Vasteras to Stockholm to see Patrik play for the Blues against Lidstrom and the Red Wings in a pair of NHL games. And you can bet a DVD will be made of these games to go in a place of honor at the Berglund household.

Anders Berglund saw his son play for the Blues a couple times live as a rookie last season when Patrik scored 21 goals. But for the rest of the Berglund family, this will be a week to remember. No rewind will be necessary as they all play these games over and over in their minds, especially dad.

"When I was at Vancouver to see Patrik picked in the first round of the draft by the Blues that was the highlight of my life," Anders recalled. "I couldn't be happier. At that point he was already more skilled than me ... and now, the Blues have helped make him bigger and stronger. A way better player. I couldn't be prouder."

Lidstrom wouldn't let the conversation go further without saying that Patrik had a good gene pool to work from.

"Anders was a very smart player. Very skilled center," Lidstrom said. "Patrik is way bigger and stronger than his dad. I've seen him grow into a pretty good player. Long reach. You don't get 21 goals as a rookie in this league when you're only 20 without great skills. He has really hard shot, whether it's a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle on the power play or a slapper somewhere in the high slot. He's a threat to score for the Blues."

On Patrik Berglund's first few visits to St. Louis, the former first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2006 Entry Draft, was quiet, shy and unassuming. Now, two inches taller and 35 pounds stronger at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, Berglund is growing into his multi-talented body.

"It's been quite an evolution for me," Patrik laughed. "On my first trip to St. Louis, I had a lump in my stomach and was scared to death of what I'd find after I got off the plane.

"You see other Swedish players like Lidstrom, (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Johan) Franzen come over to the NHL and make it look easy. I always thought it wouldn't be that hard ... I got the talent and blah, blah, blah. But I got an eye-opener the first time I saw an NHL game live and the first time I stepped on the ice with the Blues. It wasn't just the hockey ... it's the language, the food. You have to get used to that stuff to enjoy living in the U.S. ... if you're willing to spend 10-15 years in the NHL."

And that doesn't even take into consideration playing against men who are much stronger and more mature, plus the reality that the comfortable 40-game schedule back home has now become 82 grueling games in about the same amount of time. Survival of the fittest?

"With his size, his reach, his skill, the sky's the limit for Bergie," veteran winger Paul Kariya said the other day.

"Bergie's got scary skill," fellow power forward David Backes said. "When I see him get an opening on the power play, I alway try to get the puck to him. It's money in the bank that his quick, hard shot is going to create a great scoring opportunity."

Now, 21, it's Berglund's willingness to listen to veterans like Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Andy McDonald and Backes that have helped Patrik step into the NHL and learn what it takes to be a pro.

"I'm not just happy to be an NHL player. I want to be one of the best," he says. "I remember thinking how must faster the NHL was when I saw it live for the first time -- and how much bigger the players were.

"When I went back home, I knew I had to get bigger and stronger to be able to play my game. When I play my best game I hold on to the puck and protect it. I take it to the goal as fast as I can. I knew I had to be more intense from shift to shift here to win more battles, whether it's on offense or defense. I'm still working on that shift-to-shift intensity."

He was smiling when he talked about the competition against the greatest players in the world and said, "Skilled players. This is the way you play hockey.

"This is the NHL ... and I love the challenge of each battle. It's very physical out there and you don't win those battles in the corners without giving it a second and third effort. And using my ability to take the puck to the net. With the confidence I have now, I expect to go to the net even harder this year."

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