Four years ago, on September 30, 2011, Magnus Hellberg tended goal for the hometown Frolunda Indians in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers played in Gothenburg, Sweden. A rare occurrence took place that night as the rabid Frolunda faithful ignored their own netminder and instead cheered the every move of the goalie at the other end of the rink. The Swedish fans meant no disrespect to Magnus Hellberg, but they were there to salute Henrik Lundqvist, the Swedish national hero and Rangers superstar, who himself had led Frolunda to the 2005 Swedish Elite League championship.
"We were all just happy to have Lundqvist back in the Scandinavium Arena," a smiling Hellberg told BlueshirtsUnited.com Wednesday after taking part in an informal pre-training camp workout with his new Rangers teammates. "It was my first year playing for Frolunda and I am playing against the New York Rangers, which was so cool. Then before the game to see everyone cheering Henrik on and welcoming him back was really cool to be a part of."
Even more exciting for Hellberg is his new opportunity to work alongside Lundqvist during training camp, which opens late next week, after being acquired by the Rangers in a July 1 trade with the Nashville Predators.
"Henrik Lundqvist plays a game I like, and there's so much I can learn by watching him," explained the 24 year-old Hellberg. "You have to have your own identity as a goaltender, but I enjoy watching a lot of different goaltenders. I like to see how they play, and I learned a lot from watching Pekka Rinne (in Nashville); but Henrik is something special, and I look forward to being able to work with him."
Hellberg spent the past three years honing his craft in North America, mostly with Nashville's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 6-foot-5 goaltender did make one relief appearance with the Predators at the NHL level in October of 2013; and last year posted a 2.33 GAA and .913 save percentage over 38 games with Milwaukee.
The young Swede, a second round pick by the Predators in the 2011 NHL Draft, welcomed the trade to New York this summer despite his solid play in Nashville's system the past few years.
"When I got the call saying I was being traded to the New York Rangers it was like a dream coming true," offered Hellberg. "I have been watching the Rangers since I was a little kid, and it's a classic organization with a lot of history. So I am honored to be a part of a great organization like this, and will try and help them as much as I can."
Hellberg's role for the coming year still needs to be defined. He will battle the more experienced Antti Raanta for the backup goaltending position in New York during training camp, though he is well aware that receiving more playing time with the Hartford Wolf Pack at the AHL level might be more beneficial to his learning curve as a professional goalie.
The personable Hellberg's preference would be to play in New York and back up Lundqvist, but he also feels that he is in a no-lose situation if he does begin the season in Hartford instead.
"I feel that I'm good enough to be playing at this (NHL) level," stated Hellberg. "I have been in America for three years. It's been a journey and I've learned a lot; but I'm really excited to fight for a spot. I'm going to try and prove to myself and everyone else that I'm capable of doing that."
However if he does end up in Hartford, Hellberg reasons that "playing games is so important for a goaltender" so the move would also be a positive one.
"A wise man--Mitch Korn, the Predators goaltending coach--once told me that it's not a sprint, but a marathon," offered up Hellberg. "It's really true. I have patience, I do. I will just work hard and continue to develop my game no matter where I am."