KEARNEY, Neb. – Former Storm goaltender Johan Mattsson is preparing for a full season of professional hockey in Sweden after signing a professional contract to play with Djurgarden IF, a team in the second-tier Swedish league called HockeyAllsvenskan.
Mattsson, who is now 21-years-old, aged out of junior hockey after this past season with Tri-City. After previously playing in professional leagues, including a full season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sudbury Wolves in 2011-12, he was ineligible to play at the collegiate level.
The goaltender was property of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft. When he left Kearney at the end of the season and went back to Sweden, the Blackhawks elected not to sign him to a contract. Johan had a decision to make on where he would play and found a spot for himself with Djurgarden.
“It’s the second division here in Sweden, but the best teams here are as good as or even better than the teams in the Swedish Elite League,” Mattsson said. “I spoke a lot with [the Blackhawks] during the season, but they have a lot of goalies in their system so I knew it was going to be tough to get signed. I am a free agent.”
Djurgarden plays its home games in Stockholm in an arena called Hovet, which seats over 8,000 fans.
Once the Storm season came to an end in April, Mattsson went back to Sweden and had interest from a few teams in his home country. Djurgarden had some familiarity to him, as he had already worked with their goaltending coach for two years.
“I know a few of the guys from junior hockey,” Mattsson said. “It’s nice to have a few close friends from the start. I’ve played with and against a lot of the players in this league already.”
A big man in net, standing at 6-feet, four-inches, Mattsson said playing in the USHL helped him both on and off the ice.
“It helped me to play a lot of games and it made me more professional in both my on-ice and off-ice training,” Mattsson said.
Even though he’s back in his home country, Mattsson’s not done speaking English.
“We have a few Americans on the team so I guess we will be speaking English a lot,” Mattsson said. “I don’t mind that though, because I’ve gotten used to it during the last two years. But speaking Swedish with a lot of the players sure is nice!”
Even though his season has yet to start, Mattsson said the feeling of being a pro hockey player hasn’t worn off just yet. He is looking forward to spending some more time with his new coaching staff.
“My coaches seem nice,” Mattsson said. “I haven’t really spent a lot of time with them yet since we have our strength and conditioning coaches running our off-ice training.”
Mattsson appeared in 33 games last season for Tri-City, finishing with a 12-15-3 record. He had a goals against average of 3.00 and a save percentage of .909, while making 895 saves and recording one shutout. He missed the final 20 games of the season due to injury.
“I want to wish the Storm good luck next season and thank all the fans for all the support they showed me during the past year,” Mattsson said. “Go Storm!”
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)