By Jim Hodges
Special to AnaheimDucks.com
NORFOLK, Va. -- Practice is over at noon, and the Norfolk Admirals scatter for a sandwich lunch that isn’t particularly satisfying to defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
Hockey is fine. Lindholm is adjusting to the smaller North American ice and the more physical game. He has worked his way onto the Admirals’ top power play, along with fellow rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen.
Lindholm also has shown an ability to compete with men, even while skating as an 18-year-old and the youngest player in the AHL.
But lunch is something else. After all, Sweden’s staple is the smörgåsbord.
“Back home in Sweden, after practice we’d all go out and all of the restaurants would have a dinner between 11 (a.m.) and 2 or 3,” said Lindholm, the Ducks’ top selection in the 2012 NHL draft.
“There would be some classic Swedish dishes, like homemade food like your mom made you when you were little. Restaurants would have all-you-can-eat salad. I like salad. My mom started me on salad when I was little.”
A sandwich pales in comparison. When you’re used to dining at mid-day, a trip through the drive-thru just doesn’t get it.
“He sometimes makes fun of our meals because he says they’re not full meals,” said Peter Holland, who with Mat Clark and Matt Kennedy took Lindholm into their house, two blocks off the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, after talking with Admiral coach Trent Yawney.
The roommates share the cooking, something Lindholm enjoys after living alone in an apartment for the past two seasons back home in Helsingborg, the southernmost city in Sweden and more than more than 900 years old.
“We’re making steak and potatoes and stuff, but unless it has an appetizer and a dessert, I don’t think it’s a Swedish meal,” Holland said.
Lindholm copes by cooking, something he particularly enjoys. When the youngest man in the house steps into the kitchen, magic happens.
“He made me a birthday cake,” Clark offered. “He made some chocolate balls. I don’t know how he makes them, but they’re delicious. When he makes them, they don’t stay around long.”
Desserts come from recipes he gets from mother Petra Lindholm in their daily chats via Skype or Facebook. Jonas, Hampus’ father, just wants to talk hockey.
Father and son have plenty to talk about. Lindholm has shown an ability to move the puck and to stay calm under pressure. He has a goal and four assists, but more important, Lindholm seldom makes the same mistake twice.
He began the season paired with Nate Guenin, the Admiral captain and an NHL veteran who spent much of last season with the Ducks. The two also room together on the road.
It was a matchup set by Yawney, who has handled Lindholm with care.
“He’s definitely learning the game on the North American ice,” Yawney said. “He’s got a ways to go, but there’s a lot there to like. For a youngster, he’s handled himself well the way he’s played. And Nate Guenin has done a good job of mentoring him and making sure he’s taken care of.”
Yawney, a former NHL defenseman, has shown Lindholm things like protecting himself by getting his stick up to ward off an opposing player after making a pass or a shot.
“There is more ice to skate and there’s more ice to get away from the hits and make plays,” Holland said of the international rink. “He’s adapted very well. He’s a big kid, 6 (feet) 3, 200 pounds. When guys bump him, they just roll right off of him.”
The North American game is played on ice that is 13 feet narrower than that of international hockey. Blue lines seven feet closer together allow a bigger attacking zone in the AHL and NHL. A foot less space behind the net means quarters can get close.
“The rink is smaller, so you have to be a little quicker,” said Lindholm, who was selected by the Ducks largely because of his size and skating ability. “It’s more about being in the right position at the right time. It’s not a huge difference.”
Beyond physical capability, Lindholm offers rare maturity for one so young.
“On the ice, you can’t tell that he’s 18,” said Clark, who has been paired with Lindholm for the past three games. “He’s comfortable out there, and he’s a really smooth skater. For his age, he knows a lot about the game.”
Added Holland: “Sometimes you have to remind yourself that he’s only 18 and an ocean away from home.
“If you watch him play hockey, he’s obviously mature on the ice. I think there’s a direct correlation with how he is off the ice, too. I don’t think you can be immature off the ice and mature on the ice. You can’t just turn it on and off that way. I think his maturity off the ice helps him on the ice.”
At home, it helps everybody that Lindholm cooks beyond his years. That’s particularly important to Holland and Clark, both of whom are holding out for Swedish meatballs, something Lindholm said he would buy because it’s easier.
Or wait until mom is around to make them.
Some of Lindholm’s culinary capability was spawned in school, where Swedish kids are taught to take care of themselves with classes starting in early grades. He had his own apartment at 16 in Sweden, though it was only 30 minutes from his parents, allowing the occasional delivery of a food box.
The schools also teach English, something that has helped Lindholm cope with his new surroundings in Hampton Roads.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “I have to ask the guys some words some times, like how to say them. I can usually make myself understood, and I’m very good at listening.”
Whether he’s helped or hurt by an inability to drive a car is open to question. Swedish drivers get licenses at 18, and Lindholm was at the Ducks’ developmental camp when it was time to take his driving test.
So Holland and Clark ferry him to movies, haircuts and practice. They use the trips to remind him that he’s only 18.
Going past a local high school, “we tell him we’re dropping him off and to go find a prom date,” Clark said.
Wait. Would an 18-year-old man who is adept in the kitchen, with a bright future in professional hockey and good listening skills appeal to an 18-year-old girl? Maybe. Then again, the chaperones could be a problem.
“We’re always joking that we need to take Hampus to a football game at a high school and let him pick up a cheerleader or something,” Holland said. “We joke about taking him somewhere and making sure he’s home in bed on time.”
That’s in time for practice.
And to plan meals for the next day.
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