Anton Olsson made his SHL debut with the Malmö Redhawks at the age of 16. In this season, his third, he's getting more and more accustomed to the league. Here's his story, from where it all began to where we are at now.
In what has become a rare snow season in the southern parts of Sweden, Anton Olsson is filling up his car with gas when he picks up. Asked if I should call back later, he just laughs and says no and we head into the hockey talk.
Anton Olsson made his first appearance with the Malmö Redhawks SHL team back in 2019. And the memories from those first games as a 16-year-old are warm.
"It was magical. It really is what you dream about as a small child, to get to play top tier hockey in Sweden. I literally felt a shiver down my spine of joy when I got the call. My first game was away at HV71. It was fantastic!" he says with emotion in his voice. And that was just the beginning. Two days later, on december 19th, 2019, he got to feel the power and support of the fans back home in Malmö as the Redhawks blanked Djurgården in a 4-0 outing.
"Of course, it was even better getting to play in front of your own fans. They always push you, they’re always there. To get to play in front of them is awesome, and you always appreciate the opportunity to do so."
Now, for context, Anton Olsson is from Årstorp, a short drive outside the town of Helsingborg. And growing up in Helsingborg, most people support the nearby team of Rögle.
"My brother, Albin, moved to Malmö to go to high school with a hockey profile (Hockeygymnasium in Swedish) along with a few friends from both Årstorp and Helsingborg. They felt that the Rögle hockey high school weren’t for them, they felt more at home in Malmö. That made my decision pretty obvious. That’s how I ended up here, but quite a few friends of mine made it clear that my decision wasn't the smartest, haha! It’s a 15 minute drive to Catena Arena and one hour to Malmö. "
"I’ve had a great time here in Malmö so far and I couldn’t have wished for more."
The team, however, is going through a rough patch, but Olsson isn't all that worried. For an 18-year-old, he has a very mature view on things.
"Of course you think about where we’re at right now. But I try not to get bogged down by that, I’m so young and there’s so much for me to do. I’ve got to keep pushing, we all do. We were in a similar situation last year so we can use experience gained there. I try not to think too much." he says.
It seems that you easlily can shake things off...
"Yeah. I try to focus on what I can do better to help the team. I try to do my best every time. I think about what I could have done better and how I can handle certain situations next time, should they occur, stuff I can do in a different way. So, yeah. I would say it’s pretty easy for me to shake it off. You can’t dwell on stuff, you have to live here and now. "
Olsson is the youngest player on the roster. And in getting more and more comfortable at this level, he turns to – well, anyone on the team.
"It’s like a huge family. It get to that given the many hours you spend together. I’ve tried talking a lot to Oliver Lauridsen. He’s got a lot of experience and even though he’s not the most offensive-minded defenseman, and that’s an area I’d like to develop, he’s helped me a lot in terms of the defensive side of things. He knows stuff about the offensive side of things as well, of course. So I bounce some thoughts off of him every now and then."
At 18, Olsson has already played 67 games in the SHL, scoring one goal and adding a few helpers. We'll return to the goal later. But he's adapted to the top tier league and is averaging 12:56 minutes per game this season.
Watching you play, I get the feeling you entered the SHL and then you sort of just stayed here. What were the biggest things in terms of transitioning to playing against men and in the SHL?
"The main thing is that you have to have your head up all the time and you must know what you are to do with the puck straight away when you get it. That’s the biggest thing when moving from the junior hockey to the SHL. The quickness of mind among the players is massive." he says, furthering detailing his analysis into playing the defensive zone.
"It’s more in your own zone. The opponents come flying from everywhere when they’re checking. They want the puck and you have to have an idea of what to do with it before you get it. You can’t really take the puck back and then scan the ice for opportunities to make plays, which is something you in fact can do playing U20 hockey. "
Growing up in Årstorp, Anton Olsson took the path of his older brother Albin and joined him for skates on a nearby lake. However, their father wanted Albin to try out soccer. But that idea went down the drain with a vengance. Anton Olsson laughs out loud, telling the story.
"When my brother was six years old - he’s three years older than me - I remember him standing in our hallway explaining very matter-of-factly that he didn’t want to play soccer. That it was the worst thing he’d ever tried. He completely ripped the sport as a thing apart."
"So our granddad took us to a lake not far from where we lived and that’s where I took my first strides on skates. After that, our granddad took us to the indoor rink in Årstorp and there was one heck of a difference in the quality of ice, haha! I got to skate. My brother thought the indoor ice was too slippery, so he had a bun and some lemonade instead of going on the ice! "
When did you play your first game? Do you remember?
It is time for a short story again.
"I played my first game on my birthday, I can’t remember if I turned five or six. I had my birthday party during which the coach for the team one year older than me called asking if I could play with them. So we moved the birthday party to the rink and I played my first game that day. "
Last summer, the defenseman was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round, 73rd pick overall. And while the NHL is a dream of his, it's nothing he think about every day. He's staying in the moment.
Is there a player you watch a little extra?
"I’ve watched Jake Muzzin a bit. "
That’s an interesting choice…
"Everyone says so! But I find similarities in our style of play. We’re both good passers and we rely on our physical strength. "
Now, you naming Jake Muzzin begs the question; What do you prefer, the perfect hit or a great first pass?
"It’s been so long since I made that perfect hit." the defenseman, measuring 184 centimeters (6'0"), 83 kilograms (183 lbs). "I think I was 13 the last time I landed a humdinger of a hit. But then I got promoted to the U teams and the pace increased. And if you make the slightest mistake there’s a risk of hurting someone and I don’t want to expose anyone to that. But…. There’s a nice feeling getting that hit in, you can get everyone going. But a nice first pass starts the play and gets the team going as well. And if the team scores after one of those passes, that’s something else. So yeah, I have to say that perfect pass. "
Earlier this season, Olsson scored his first ever SHL goal, a game winner against Djurgården where he followed up an attack, firing a shot and then picking his own rebound making it 3-0 in what would be a 3-2 win.
"Thinking back now, it was fantastic. I’ve scored quite a few goals in midget and junior hockey but playing on the senior level of things, scoring has been sparse. The opponents are in fact better and it’s hard to score the same beauties as before. But it was a confidence boost for sure and it really cemented my thinking like 'I know what I’m doing here, I can play on this level'" he says.
Story time over, we say our goodbyes for now. But rest assured, we'll hear from Anton Olsson again. Scoring goals, making the wonderful first pass. Or getting that perfect hit.