It didn’t take long for Brown Bears defenseman Gustav Berglund to realize he had made a good decision in coming to the Kenai Peninsula from Sweden to play his junior hockey.
“I’d heard about the cold and dark, but when I came in August, it was warmer than it was in Sweden, so that wasn’t a big change at all,” said Berglund, who first arrived on the Peninsula in August 2013. “I’ve never seen this beautiful of landscape.
“My first trip was from Anchorage to Kenai right after I got here. It was like this unbelievable view. The river was all blue. It was crazy. You don’t know that that exists in this world, and I’m happy I’ve seen it.”
For Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant, it took a similarly short time to realize the Bears had made the right decision in bringing Berglund to the Peninsula.
“We knew he was going to be a solid guy right from the get-go from watching video a couple of summers ago, and he’s been everything we saw plus more,” Beauparlant said of his alternate captain. “He’s physical, a great team guy, and a good leader in the locker room and on the ice.
“He’s what we’re looking for in our imports. He elevates other guys’ games.”
Berglund, the son of Johan Sigvardsson and Asa Berglund, is the latest in a long line of impact talent from Sweden for the Bears.
It started with Johan Skinnars in the 2009-10 season, and continued with Erik Persson and Mathias Dahlstrom in 2010-11, Albin Karlsson and Gustaf Johansson in 2012-13, and Karlsson, Sebastian Fuchs and Berglund last season.
Berglund used Scandinavian Hockey Consulting, which was founded in 2009 to help European players make the transition to American junior and college ranks, to find Kenai River.
“My final goal is I kind of wanted to go to college,” Berglund said. “Going to college is much easier if I first played junior hockey in the U.S.”
Berglund, who is from a town of 80,000 called Vaxjo, said hitting the U.S. junior ranks is now a burgeoning trend in his country.
“I always recognize at least one player per team,” he said. “There’s more and more every year going to North America.”
Berglund said the attraction is American college hockey. In Sweden, college and hockey are separate.
“You could combine playing on a semipro team with studying at a college, but it is not college hockey,” Berglund said.
With just four games left in his junior career, Berglund has no firm plans for next season. He is weighing several offers he has from American colleges with the temptation to return to Sweden, play semipro, study at college and be closer to his parents and girlfriend.
The defenseman said he is a pretty good student who has an application in to a law school in Sweden.
Beauparlant has a clear idea about where Berglund should end up.
“For G, he’s a guy that should be a Division I defenseman,” the coach said. “He does things the right way. He’s got good edges, he’s good off the rush, he’s not afraid to be physical and he’s a well-rounded defenseman.
“There’s definitely schools that have been interested. We’re waiting patiently for them to finish the playoffs, and we’ll see where they are and if they want to bring a defenseman in.”
Last season, Berglund played in 49 games and put up two goals and seven assists, clocking in at a plus-2.
After the season, Berglund and Beauparlant decided that Berglund should lose a bit of muscle to increase his endurance on the ice.
Berglund trained hard in the summer to make that happen. He has been able to play 25 to 30 minutes per game this season, and that still hasn’t stopped him from being the only player to appear in all of the Brown Bears games.
“He’s really in tune with his body and knows what his body needs,” Beauparlant said. “He does things the right way in terms of his eating habits and preparation.
“I know he’ll have a great college career and an excellent chance to play professional hockey because he’s reliable game in and game out.”
Berglund also seen more time on the power play, and his numbers show it — three goals and 18 assists in 56 games.
“If somehow I got more points, it’s all about getting the chance and that’s part of the reason,” Berglund said. “I’m still not going to be a point guy if I go to college. I’m a strong, simple defenseman and I don’t really care about points.”
The only bad number is his minus-22 this season, but Beauparlant said that is deceiving.
“In our last 10 to 20 games, he’s probably been our plus-minus leader,” Beauparlant said. “Sometimes we look at the wrong stats. Gustav’s been solid 98 percent of the year, maybe minus a few games.”
Berglund’s plus-minus number is more the result of the inopportune bounces and untimely lost edges that have characterized the Bears’ season.
“It just feels like we didn’t have the right bounces this year,” Berglund said. “I feel like we play hard and compete every game, and we’re so close to winning every game, then they score with five minutes left.
“That’s been our season.”
Even though the Bears missed the playoffs, and even though he has no firm college plans, Berglund doesn’t regret coming to the Peninsula.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” he said. “Not a lot of people get a chance to play junior hockey in Alaska.
“I’ve got to spend a lot of time in a state I’d never heard of. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it.”
Berglund, who stayed with Art Karvonen last season and Tim Navarre this season, said his only real regret is never getting to see the Peninsula in the summer.
He said he’s become interested in outdoors activities while here, but as of yet has not had a chance to try them. Missing the playoffs will allow him to do some fishing before he goes back to Sweden.
“Everyone talks about how beautiful it is in the summer, but I’ve never seen it,” he said. “The next time I book a trip here it’s going to be in the summer and I’m going to live the outdoors life — camping, fishing and hunting.”