So far so good for Swede Blidstrand
By Greg Harder, Leader-Post
September 10, 2010
Defenceman Ricard Blidstrand is adjusting to life and hockey in Regina.
Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post, Leader-Post
Ricard Blidstrand is on the fast track.
The smooth-skating blueliner has so far avoided some of the growing pains that typically plague European players when they arrive in the WHL. It didn't hurt that the 18-year-old native of Stockholm, Sweden already had a solid grasp of the English language, not to mention the fact that he's proving to be a quick study on the ice, too.
"I'm very happy to be here," offered Blidstrand, whom the Regina Pats selected in the first round (46th overall) of the 2010 CHL import draft. "I just want to play well and show how good a skater I am and show what kind of player I am. I'm kind of an all-around player. I like to play offensive and defensive. I have to be a defender who makes good passes and skates a lot."
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Blidstrand isn't easily pushed around and doesn't mind the rough stuff, either.
"I like to be physical," he said, adding that the style of play in the WHL is "like I thought it would be. The speed is almost the same (as Europe), it's only that the rink is so small. That's the biggest thing. It's very different to play on the small rinks, but I like it. I have to be very quick here, release the puck very quick. That's what I have to learn. Be quick and protect myself, don't be tackled all the time."
Blidstrand's crash course in WHL hockey has included some tutoring from fellow Swedish import Hampus Gustafsson, who's entering his second season in Regina. Gustafsson didn't know Blidstrand well before training camp, although they did play against each other "a couple times" in the Swedish junior elite league.
"We weren't best buddies before but hopefully we can be after this season," noted Gustafsson, 19. "He's new so I kind of have to take care of him but I think he knows what to expect. He's drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers (in the seventh round this summer) and he knows the language pretty good. He has been doing good around the guys, too.
"He's a skilled player and I think he's going to contribute a lot for us this year. He's a smart player. He doesn't talk too much on the ice but hopefully we can change that a little bit. Other than that I think he's going to be a really good player for us."
The same goes for Gustafsson, who's expected to be a big part of Regina's offence after a solid rookie campaign in which he had 14 goals and 33 points in 61 games. Gustafsson joined the Pats early last season after being released by the Saskatoon Blades, who cut him loose due to an import logjam.
The Blades' loss was the Pats' gain.
"I remember last year when I was new ... you didn't really know what to expect," said Gustafsson. "I wouldn't say it'll be easier (this season) but of course I know what to expect so I can focus on the hockey part.
"Last year when I came I was thinking a lot about where I'm going to stay and who I'm going to be friends with, small things like that. Now I know my place in the locker room and I know what the coaches want from me so all I have to do is focus on hockey."
Blidstrand has already drawn rave reviews from the Pats' brass for his skating and poise with the puck, but the transition is far from over. He's hoping to take another step tonight when the Pats continue their pre-season schedule against the Brandon Wheat Kings (7 p.m., Brandt Centre). After that, he's slated to depart for training camp in Philadelphia, which he hopes will be his next hockey home.
"That's a dream," added Blidstrand. "I have to fight to be there. It's going to be fun to show what I can do. I don't really think (nerves will be an issue). That's kind of who I am. I'm pretty calm. I look forward to it."
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