By Andrea Nelson –
Hockey might be Joakim Andersson’s first love, but his second is never far from his mind.
Whether he’s warming up before a hockey game or playing FIFA World Cup, soccer fills the minutes that aren’t reserved for the ice.
“I love soccer, I’d play soccer,” Andersson said of his optional career choice. “I’m real good at [soccer] video games, too – FIFA.”
The Grand Rapids Griffins are happy the center chose skates instead of cleats. Andersson had a breakout year during the 2011-12 season, besting his AHL rookie season totals in goals (21), assists (30), points (51) and penalty minutes (34). He quickly evolved from a defensive role as a rookie into one of the Griffins’ top scorers, and then-head coach Curt Fraser named him an alternate captain on a veteran team during the season.
“I got a different role than I had the last couple years,” Andersson said. “I was playing on the top line with a lot of skilled players and I was an alternate captain. I usually grow with responsibility and then I got confidence offensively and was producing more.”
Andersson welcomed the responsibility of being an alternate captain, a role he will reprise in 2012-13, but he never let the title affect his attitude.
“When I get a letter on my jersey, I don’t change as a person,” Andersson explained. “I lead by example. I’m going to try to be the same player I was last year and the same person. I hope I get a big role on the team and play big minutes in all different types of situations.”
The hard work and dedication Andersson has displayed on the ice hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s somebody that does everything right every day,” head coach Jeff Blashill said. “Those are the types of people that ultimately become very successful. He leads by example. I expect that he’ll have a very good year.”
The center already has his goals and expectations for the 2012-13 season set before him. And his eyes are already fixated on April.
“I just hope that this team can make the playoffs,” Andersson said. “It’s been a couple years. That’s what we want to do – win more games. I hope I can have a better year than I had last year.”
He has plenty of experiences to learn from and improve upon. Andersson was one of the lucky few to be called up to the big leagues last season. He appeared in five games for the Detroit Red Wings, recording three shots and a plus-one rating. It was one of his most important learning experiences, both on and off the ice.
“That was fun, it was real fun to play in those games,” Andersson said. “It was a big experience for me and to take with me over the next couple years. I watched those guys, how they prepared for games, what they do after the games to prepare for the next games, all the small details. I usually play center so I watched (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Justin) Abdelkader, (Pavel) Datsyuk and all those guys, what they do on the ice that I can use.”
Andersson was also called up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, serving as a black ace for Detroit’s short run at the championship. But you won’t find him complaining about the Red Wings’ early exit. He was learning from some of the best players in the game, soaking in every second he was wearing the winged wheel.
“It was good to be around there and see what playoff hockey in the NHL is all about,” Andersson said. “They for sure put a step up there, everyone on the ice, they were more aggressive and more intense. It was good to watch those games live.”
After getting a taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Andersson is even more determined to help the Griffins reach the Calder Cup playoffs. It’s a goal he’s had for months, and one he’ll be working towards for the next six. Andersson’s on-ice performance is only a small part of what the Griffins will need of the center in order to reach the postseason.
“He’ll be a leader based on his approach every single day,” Blashill said. “He’ll be in a realm of leadership including a number of others that will have an impact on the type of locker room we’ll have.”
Faces new and old fill the Griffins locker room this season, but Andersson knows they have the tools and talent to have a special year. For his part, the Munkedal, Sweden, native has picked up where he left off last season, even winning a prized pumpkin grown by the team minister and offered up as a reward for scoring the team’s first goal in 2012-13.
The pumpkin may last only a few weeks, but one thing will never change: Andersson’s character.
“The people around here, they care about the Griffins and they like hockey so we always have a good crowd here and that helps us a lot,” Andersson said. “It’s fun to play in this city. I’m excited to be back here playing for the Griffins again.”