By Kyle Kujawa –
Adam Almquist is used to surpassing expectations.
Entering his first season in North America, Almquist was a bit of a wildcard. As a unit, the Grand Rapids Griffins defense had only two returning full-time members – Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff. The team added veterans Nathan Paetsch and Brennan Evans to complement a group of AHL rookies in Almquist, Chad Billins, Max Nicastro and Gleason Fournier (up from Toledo last season).
Almquist started his career in North America slowly, going pointless in his first seven AHL games, in addition to spending several games in the press box.
“I think I’m slowly making the adjustment,” said Almquist. “It takes a couple games to get into it.”
A couple games was all Almquist needed. He picked up his first AHL assist on Nov. 2 at San Antonio and notched his first two AHL goals the following night at Texas. He responded well to being taken out of the line-up, racking up eight points (2-6-8) in a nine-game stretch from Nov. 2-24.
“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “I feel better and better every game. We’ve played better as a team, too, so you get the points. It’s a fun group out there.”
Almquist’s run coincided with a spectacular streak by the Griffins. Starting with his two-goal game at Texas, the Griffins rattled off eight straight wins, which was the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. It was also the longest in the AHL during the season’s first two months, which vaulted Grand Rapids from fifth place in the Midwest Division to first.
The native of Huskvarna, Sweden, believes that settling in off the ice has benefitted his play on the ice.
“Pretty much everything here is different, nothing is like home,” said Almquist. “But you have to adjust to where you are. I think I’ve been doing that pretty well so far. I’ve got some help adjusting from people in the office and other guys on the team.”
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings with the second-to-last selection of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Almquist is helped out by the numerous Swedes throughout the organization, including two on the Griffins in Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson.
“They are pretty awesome guys and really good players,” said Almquist. “They’ve helped me out a lot. It’s good to ask them for advice because they’ve been here a couple years.”
Despite his low draft position, Almquist did not waste any time making waves in the hockey world. After joining the Red Wings organization, the skilled defenseman posted off-the-charts numbers in the Swedish junior league, recording 34 points (5-29—34) in 15 games, which stands as the highest point-per-game average in league history (2.27).
It was enough to get a then 18-year-old Almquist a spot in the Swedish Elite League, a rarity for a defenseman of his age. But Almquist didn’t just play limited minutes; he tied for the SEL defenseman scoring lead with 11 points (1-10—11) in 16 postseason games, helping HV 71 capture the league championship.
It was a season of impressive accomplishments for the promising blueliner, but winning the Swedish championship isn’t Almquist’s ultimate goal.
“I came over here to hopefully make the NHL,” he said. “You have to go through the AHL and it’s a good league.”
Putting up points will lead to more ice time for Almquist, who has worked his way to a regular spot on a Griffins power play that ranked third in the AHL entering December, but he knows that his 5-foot-11, 173-pound frame isn’t ready for the NHL yet.
“I have to get stronger,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m working hard on. Hitting the gym, and hopefully getting a little quicker, too.”
Although he doesn’t find too many similarities in Grand Rapids and Sweden, the culture shock hasn’t been enough to chase Almquist away from his dream. Despite watching only a handful of live games every year because of the time difference, Almquist is hoping to continue rising up the Griffins depth chart and eventually achieve a lifelong dream.
“[Detroit] was always my favorite team because of all the Swedes. That’s what you see on the news back home when they show the sports – Detroit players. You see the best Swedish players playing here, so everyone wants to play in the NHL.”