"Physically, it gets tougher each season, but I'm having more fun today than I did when I was younger. I feel healthy now, but over the course of the last 10 years I've had my share of injuries and realize that's all a part of the game. Mentally, though, I'm having a lot more fun out there."
-- Mattias Ohlund
To Vancouver Canucks
defenseman Mattias Ohlund
, the game has never been more fun. That's quite the statement considering Ohlund first broke into the NHL over a decade ago.
That's certainly music to the ears of every Canucks fan when you consider the 32-year-old Swede happens to be the longest-tenured player on the Vancouver roster this season.
"Physically, it gets tougher each season, but I'm having more fun today than I did when I was younger," Ohlund told NHL.com. "I feel healthy now, but over the course of the last 10 years I've had my share of injuries and realize that's all a part of the game. Mentally, though, I'm having a lot more fun out there."
Maybe it's because Ohlund's mind is at ease knowing he's backed by one of the NHL's most dynamic goalies in Roberto Luongo
. Whatever the reason, it's a comfort for the Canucks to know the 1999 NHL All-Star is feeling like a kid again.
"I don't know if pride is the right word (as the longest-tenured Canuck), but I've been extremely happy being here the last 11 years," he said. "It's been a lot of fun and despite there being a lot of changes these days (trades, free agency), I really don't get caught up in all that. I'm content taking it one day at a time, but I've been lucky and I'm happy to be here so long."
Ohlund made his NHL debut way back at the start of the 1997-98 season in Japan during a two-game regular-season series against the Anaheim Ducks
. He equaled Jyrki Lumme
for the team lead in scoring among defensemen that season with 7 goals and 30 points and finished second to Boston Bruins
forward Sergei Samsonov
in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
A serious eye injury suffered in a preseason game against the Ottawa Senators
on Sept. 21, 1999, forced Ohlund in and out of the lineup over the next two seasons while recovering from two eye surgeries.
"I was so young at the time (of the eye injury), I didn't have a whole lot of concerns," Ohlund said. "Had something like that happened now, I'd have more concern, but it went by and I missed quite a few games. I took a year and half before I felt fine again and now things are much better. I still can't see 100 percent (out of the right eye), but I wear contacts and glasses and they do the trick."
This season, Ohlund has posted 4 goals, 22 points and a plus-9 rating through 72 games. He's averaging 21:38 of ice time, while also playing a role on the power-play and penalty-killing units. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Ohlund is also third on the team with 98 hits and ranks first with 134 blocked shots.
"I feel good, but also know it's probably a bigger challenge today than it was 7-8 years ago," he said. "Back then, if you didn't feel well, you could still find a way to put a stick on someone and slow them down but now you have to find a way to skate with them in order to just contain them, otherwise you're going to the penalty box. The challenge is bigger but I feel fine about my game."
Ohlund's 99 penalty minutes, which include three majors, are fourth-highest on the team in 2008-09.
"You don't see many European guys like Mattias in the NHL today," said Canucks forward Pavol Demitra
. "He's hitting, he's fighting and he's a great defenseman. It's very easy to play with a guy like that."
Vancouver associate coach Rick Bowness knows how important Ohlund is to the foundation of the franchise.
"He's the heart and soul," Bowness said. "This man brings a lot of intensity to the game every night and he's a true presence in our locker room and a true presence on the ice. He's a big man who plays big; you always know when he's out there. He brings the intensity and the character that you win with and that's why he has survived as long as he has in this League."
Ohlund has represented his country on an international level on several occasions, including three Olympics, three World Junior Championships, three World Championships and one World Cup. While donning Team Sweden's jersey was certainly a memorable experience, Ohlund admits there's nothing close to the camaraderie within the Vancouver locker room over the course of an 82-game regular-season and, if you're fortunate, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Before I came (to Vancouver), playing on the national team was a big boost and made the transition to playing here a little less steep but it's always a big honor playing for your country regardless of the event," Ohlund said. "It's something you take great pride in but, having said that, being part of the Canucks and going through the grind of the year and putting on your work boots with your 23 teammates offers a special bond. You see each other every day and work so hard for one common goal - winning the Stanley Cup. I know that would be something special."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.