ALMTUNA, SWEDEN – Tim Soderlund had been informally practicing with Almtuna IS for a few weeks before the Blackhawks officially loaned him to the Swedish team.
Even at that point, Soderlund had an important question for coach Robert Kimby before they got going for real.
“The first thing he told me was, ‘Well, how strict are you system-wise and stuff like that?’” Kimby said recently by phone.
Kimby then asked Soderlund how strict he thought Kimby had been in practice so far. Soderlund replied he hadn’t been that strict.
“Well, this is the way it’s going to be,” Kimby recalled saying.
Soderlund can attest to that after 20 games with Almtuna, which plays in HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second division. He and Kimby both believe Soderlund probably needs to be more adaptive to team structure, especially defensively, when he returns to North America. But for now, that freedom was exactly what Soderlund needed in his game.
“I want him to feel like he was freed; he got to really play his style,” Kimby said. “Like I said, he needs to learn to play a little bit more within the system. And I want him to feel like he got the extra work he needed. He got a chance to find his confidence a little bit because I think he needed that. I wanted him to feel like he had a good time. Not only playing hockey, but having fun playing hockey. I believe he did.”
Soderlund concurred. It’s not that hockey wasn’t fun last season, but it was a season of learning, adjusting and handling some adversity. It was his first season under contract with the Blackhawks and playing in North America after previously being in Sweden and playing in the SHL.
Soderlund’s game is all about speed, and he had to figure out how to use it on the smaller ice sheet. He could get on opponents quicker on the forecheck, but he also found he had less time to build speed with the puck. The Blackhawks slowly broke him in. He played some games with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL. He sat on the bench some games. He was also sent to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL to play some more. He had three points in 29 AHL games and six points in seven ECHL games last season.
Overall, Soderlund was pleased with his first year, but he also recognized he lost some of his confidence and too often resorted to the easy play.
With Almtuna, Soderlund broke those habits. It took him some time, but he started asserting himself offensively and defensively. He took away pucks, made plays and scored goals. Over the last 10 games, he had been one of the more dominant players in the league, scoring seven goals and dishing out four assists. In the previous 10 games, he had two goals and two assists.
“I feel like now I’m used to it again,” Soderlund said by phone. “I feel like I got back my confidence with the puck and taking the shots, instead of just going to the corners. That’s one of the things I’ve been improving this year. If we lose the puck, I can forecheck and take the puck back really fast and start creating offense again.”