For rookie left wing Loui Eriksson
, Opening Night 2006 was more memorable than most. In fact, it was a dream come true, as he not only made his long-awaited National Hockey League debut, but he netted the goal that tied the contest and sent it to overtime. He became just the third player in Dallas Stars history to score a goal in his first career NHL game, and it would be a positive sign of things to come for the young Swede.
Eriksson, who turns 22 in July, would go on to register 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in 59 NHL games as a rookie, and in the process, establish himself as an up-and-coming impact player for the Stars. He excelled in 15 games for the Iowa Stars early in the season, and to gain more valuable playoff experience after Dallas' postseason ended, he re-joined that club for nine games during their AHL Playoff run. He was tied for third on Iowa's team in playoff scoring with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists).
The native of Goteborg, Sweden, was the first of Dallas' three selections in the second round of the 2003 Entry Draft (No. 33 overall), and in 2005-06, didn't disappoint in his first professional season in North America.
The 6-1, 183-pound left wing was named the Iowa Stars' 2006 Rookie of the Year after collecting 60 points (31 goals, 29 assists) in 78 AHL games, and leading the club in goals, power play goals (12) and plus/minus (+20). He was also honored as the AHL's Rookie of the Month in March 2006, when he posted 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) and a +15 rating in 14 pivotal, stretch-run games for Iowa.
Eriksson skated for Team Sweden at the 2004 and 2005 World Junior Championships, as well as the 2003 Under-18 World Championships. He had a decorated career with the Vastra Frolunda Indians in Sweden, and like many youngsters from that country, grew up idolizing Peter Forsberg.
He's now in the same league as Forsberg, and will be looked upon to continue his progression with Dallas in 2007-08. DallasStars.com had the opportunity to talk to Eriksson after this season to get his thoughts on his rookie campaign, an incredibly helpful assistant coach and his playoff experiences with the Dallas and Iowa Stars.
DallasStars.com: What was this first NHL season like for you and what is the biggest thing you learned as a rookie?
Eriksson: "I really learned a lot this year and I gained a lot of experience. I played a lot of games at the NHL level, which has always been my dream, so it was a lot of fun. I realize I have a lot to work on so I can stay at that level. You can never have a bad game in the NHL. You just can't have an off-night. You have to be consistent and stay focused all the time. When you are playing against such great players, you have to be at your best every game." DallasStars.com: What was your most memorable moment from your rookie season in the National Hockey League?
Eriksson: "I would have to say my first game in the NHL, which was Opening Night at Colorado. First of all, playing in my first NHL game was so exciting and I was kind of nervous at first. I scored my first goal and then we won the game in overtime on a great pass from Marty Turco to Darryl Sydor, so that was a really special night. I was so glad after the game to have that first game in the books. I had so many text messages and voicemails from everyone congratulating me. It was a great night that I won't ever forget."
DallasStars.com: What did you learn from your first experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Eriksson: "We knew every game was going to be a close game, since Vancouver played such a similar style that what we did. Dave Tippett told us all the time that every play counts and you can't do things with less than 100% effort, because there was such a small margin for error. The level of play and the intensity went up a lot from the regular season to those playoff games, so now I have that first experience under my belt."
DallasStars.com: How beneficial is it for you and the other young Swedes (specifically, Joel Lundvist and Niklas Grossman) to have Ulf Dahlen as an assistant coach to work with on a daily basis?
Eriksson: "It's great that I get to work with Ulf everyday. It's nice to be able to go over things in Swedish and he just really goes out of his way to help me a lot. He is easy to communicate with and he's always there to listen to my concerns and issues. He has been a big help to me in handling those things, and since he went through so much as a player, I feel comfortable in going to him with questions. I'm really lucky to have him as an assistant coach."
DallasStars.com: How difficult was it mentally to make the transition from Dallas' playoff series against Vancouver to Iowa's AHL playoff run?
Eriksson: "It was really tough on all of us to lose that seventh game to Vancouver. Joel (Lundqvist), Grossie (Niklas Grossman) and I got the call the next day and we were told we were being sent to Iowa. It's your job, so you have to focus and keep yourself mentally fresh. Once we got to Iowa, we realized we had to keep working hard and playing the best we could. It took a little bit of time to get back into a rhythm and get used to a different role with Iowa, but in the long run, it will be really good for us." DallasStars.com: What challenges did you have to face being sent to Iowa to play during the American Hockey League playoffs?
Eriksson: "I just had to show the Dallas staff that I could stand out at that level. It was a little bit of pressure, so I had to play my game and help the team as best I could. As a team, everyone in Iowa wanted to show Dallas that we can play well in the playoffs and win pressure games. I was just focusing on standing out from the crowd."
DallasStars.com: What is the biggest difference between playing in the NHL and in the AHL?
Eriksson: "The biggest difference is the level of play. Every single game in the NHL is so close and there are so many good players to go up against every night. The other major difference is in the way we travel. In the NHL, everything is first-class, you fly everywhere and you stay in beautiful hotels. You obviously get pretty spoiled when you're up with Dallas. In the AHL, there are a lot of long bus rides and it's tough to get your rest after a game sometimes. The schedule is tough in the AHL as well, with games three nights in a row sometimes. You might play at Omaha and at Chicago, then come home for one game, before going back out to Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. You just try and improve your game as much as possible and make the most of it."
DallasStars.com: How do you envision your development continuing this summer and next season?
Eriksson: "I am going to keep working hard and getting stronger this summer so I can continue improving. Now that I've been in the NHL for a year, I want to contribute even more and try to help this team win hockey games."