Even before he was chosen by the Kelowna Rockets in June, Henrik Nyberg was reasonably sure he wanted to cross the Atlantic for the next step in his hockey career.
Then, after discussing his options with fellow Swede and former Rocket Mikael Backlund, the Stockholm native was 100 per cent sold on hockey in the Okanagan.
“I talked to (Backlund) after the draft, he played here before and he told me a lot of good things about the team and the organization,” said the amiable Nyberg, who the Rockets chose 62nd overall in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. “He said good things about Ryan Huska and the Hamiltons…and what a nice place (Kelowna) was. I knew then I wanted to come.”
Referred to as ‘Hank’ by his new teammates, the 6-foot, 188-pound Nyberg is a smooth skating, power forward who has been quick to develop some chemistry with linemates Ryan Olsen and Zach Franko.
Like most Europeans who play in North America for the first time, the pace of the game has been among the most challenging adjustments for the 18-year-old Swede.
“In Sweden there are bigger rinks there, so you have a lot more time,” said Nyberg, who had a goal and two assists in his first seven games with the Rockets. “Here you have to be faster when you get the puck and always have a plan for where you’re going to pass or shoot. I think it will take some time, but I think I’m kind of into it now. It’s getting better.”
Head coach Ryan Huska, who has seen his share of Europeans come and go in his 11 seasons on the Rockets’ staff, expects Nyberg to improve and progress as he learns the Canadian junior game.
“I think Henrik’s done well,” Huska said. “He skates very well, we want him to be able to create energy with his skating ability so he’s always moving his feet and always working. I think Henrik’s challenge now is to find a little more composure with the puck and not feel like he has to give it up all the time because he does have a good skill set.”
One other eye-opener for Nyberg since moving to Kelowna has been the attention focused on junior hockey in Canada compared to his junior team back in Stockholm. In Sweden, Nyberg was accustomed to playing in front of sparse crowds of 200 to 300 fans.
“A big difference is the fans, to come out and see that many watching our games is really good,” he said. “To play in this arena is huge, to see 5,000 (fans) is huge. It’s been a big change, a good change.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will visit the Victoria Royals for two games this weekend, Friday and Saturday nights…Kelowna’s next home action is Thursday, Oct. 18 against the Prince George Cougars.