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Confident Eriksson is building on breakthrough season

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of pro sports, it was inevitable that observers of the Dallas Stars wondered as the season started: what can left winger Loui Eriksson do for an encore?

After a fantastic breakthrough’08-09 season in which Eriksson established career-highs with 36 goals and 63 points, the 24-year-old native of Goteborg, Sweden has raised the bar - and expectations - significantly heading into his fourth NHL year. 

Eriksson Video Highlights
Loui has nine goals and 11 assists in 23 games this season, as he is off to another great start.

Following a disappointing playoff-less spring that resulted in major off-season changes in the organization, Eriksson trained hard during his longer-than-expected off-season. Eriksson maintains the heightened confidence that helped him accomplish so much and hopes to build on his offensive output.

“I think I got a lot of opportunities to play a lot of hockey, to get a lot of ice time out there,” Eriksson said of last season, when he obliterated his previous bests of 14 goals and 31 points before the January All-Star break. “We had some injured guys and I got some more ice time and my confidence level was really high and everything just went well. I think the whole season felt good and I just wanted to bring that to this season.”

As for the increased expectations, Eriksson, who skated much of last year on a line with crafty center Brad Richards, knows the organization is counting on him to at least replicate that performance.

“I don’t know about pressure, but a lot of the coaches and players expect me to do the same thing and I’m going to try my best to do that,” vowed Eriksson, who still produced nine goals and 19 points in the final 21 games after Richards was lost for the season due to injuries. “That’s one of my personal goals, to do as good as last season and even better.” 

After the success he enjoyed with increased responsibility, logging 19:49 of ice time per contest, a significant increase from the 14:02 he averaged the year before, opposing teams will undoubtedly focus more on trying to shut him down. But while he’ll likely face more difficult checking, Eriksson isn’t concerned and even relishes the extra attention. He’s averaging 19:31 per game this season.

“That’s just the fun part of it,” smiled Eriksson, the Stars’ second-round selection (33rd overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft. “It’s always fun to know that you’ve got a guy watching you out there. That’s part of the game and you have to be ready for it.”

“I think he probably had good checking last year anyway,” noted center Mike Ribeiro, the only Star to surpass Eriksson’s point total last year, with 78. “But yeah, when you score a lot, teams will put a mark on you and he’s going to have work through it and find ways to score. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

Regardless, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Eriksson’s contributions go far beyond his offensive totals. A premier two-way talent who has often been compared to veteran teammate Jere Lehtinen, a three-time recipient of the NHL’s Selke Award as the league’s best defensive forward, Eriksson is usually deployed on the Stars’ top shut-down line against opposing scorers. One example of his prowess at both ends of the ice is reflected in the fact that he led the Stars with a +14 plus/minus rating, which was nine more than any other forward.

“Whether he scores 36 goals or 33 goals, he’s going to be a better player,” Richards added. “Where do you go from 36? I think definitely, he has a chance to get to 40 some day, but I think with Loui, he’s going to be up there. He’s good at a lot of areas of the game. His willingness to go to the tough areas, he’s always going to score goals, because he’s not scared to go there.” 

Eriksson carried his impressive NHL performance over to the World Championships in Switzerland, an international tournament featuring the best players in the world not competing in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Suiting up for Team Sweden’s senior national team for the first time, Eriksson acquitted himself very well, scoring three goals and four assists in nine games, including a goal and an assist in the bronze medal game, a 4-2 victory over Team USA (and teammate Matt Niskanen).

“It was fun, I’ve always dreamed about that, to play for your home country,” said Eriksson, who also represented Sweden at the World Juniors in 2004 and ’05. “It was a great feeling to play that first game, I was able to score, too, and we won. It was a little bit new experience, it had been awhile since I played on the big ice, but I think we did well, we got a bronze medal. 

“Actually, I have a picture, I think I scored when (Niskanen) was behind me in the bronze medal game, so that was pretty fun to see.”

With the NHL shutting down in February so its best players can compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Eriksson admits to wanting to play for Sweden, which will defend its 2006 Olympic gold medal in Vancouver.

“That’s a goal for me, too, to make that team,” Eriksson acknowledged. “There are a lot of good players in this league who are from Sweden and even in the Swedish Elite League, so it’s good competition, but that’s a goal, to make it to the Olympics.” 

After the Stars battled through an injury-plagued year in ’08-09, Eriksson believes the team’s strong start this year will help them get back to the post-season.

“That was a tough season last year, we had a lot of injured guys, it was tough for the new guys to come in and play well,” Eriksson said, “but this year, we’re getting all the injured guys back and some new guys, and we’re doing all we can to make it to the playoffs. That’s where you want to go, that’s the biggest goal we have as a team.”

Eriksson’s presence at both ends of the ice has surely helped the cause.

“I could see he’s going to be a great player for a lot of years,” Richards said. “I love his attitude. He’s a great human being and he’s quiet - he just goes about his job, you never hear him complaining about anything. It was a real joy to kind of follow and watch him. He’s so young and kind of naïve, it was just every night, just score some goals and life goes on, it seemed easy for him. I couldn’t be happier playing with him.”

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