Mattias Ekholm’s summer break officially began on May 25 in Minsk, Belarus, moments after he and Team Sweden claimed bronze at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
Playing in the tournament added nearly a month more of hockey onto the seven-month NHL season the Nashville Predators defenseman had just completed, but the Swede counts the extra playing time as highly valuable.
Ekholm said he’s fine with condensing an offseason if it means adding minutes against top competition, like he did at the 16-team tournament earlier this year.
“With the World Championships right after the season, that made my summer a little different,” Ekholm said. “I got off the ice from the bronze medal game in late May and after that it’s only about two months until the season. So I couldn’t really afford to take too much of a break. Not too long after that I came to [Nashville] to ramp up practicing. I’ve been skating all August, so that’s helped this transition.”
After a 700-mile journey back to his hometown in Sweden, the blueliner soaked up the next few summer months of what forward Viktor Stalberg describes as the “best weather in Sweden that I can ever remember.”
“It was a great summer. I feel refueled and re-energized for the upcoming season. We had great weather in Sweden, I was there for almost all of it,” said Ekholm. “Just a lot of chilling and hanging out with my friends and family and working out a lot too. So all in all, it’s been a pretty good summer.”
Although the 24-year-old logged his first NHL goal and points in the past campaign, there’s still a desire by the Swede to be much better. In more than just a symbolic change this summer, the defenseman decided to switch his Predators number to No. 14 for the 2014-15 season.
“I was wearing the No. 14 when I won the championship with my team in Sweden, and I wore it at the World Championships where I played pretty good,” Ekholm said. “So it’s just been a number that’s been following me. The 42 number that I had was more of a given number that I got when I first got here. So there was no story behind it and 14 is more meaningful. Plus, I just scored the one goal last year with 42 so that didn’t cut it. I needed to do something to change it up a bit.”
Ekholm had two goals in 10 games at the World Championships compared to a single tally notched across 62 contests with the Predators, so maybe he’s on to something. But if stitching a new set of digits to his sweater won’t cut it, maybe playing in a different system will.
“It’ll be pretty different with a new coach; it’ll be a new challenge,” Ekholm said. “We’re excited about having Peter [Laviolette] here, and I think we’re going to have a good year. Personally, I see myself as more of an offensive defenseman so I think his system will fit me well. The rest of our D corps also has offensive ability, so I’m excited and hopefully we’ll get a good year going.”
In sports, good fortune usually has a way of finding the players that put in extra work; and this year, that might benefit Ekholm—different number or not.