Sunday, August 2, 2009

Focus on a Thrasher: Johan "Moose" Hedberg

Oh happy day. FINALLY it's time to do the Focus on a Thrasher on my favorite Thrasher...Johan "Moose" Hedberg, back up goalie for the Atlanta Thrashers. If I didn't think it was annoying I'd add music to this post...but then again, where do you find the sound of heaven opening and the sun shining down?

I love me some Moose!

On game day, I'm either in my Hedberg Manitoba Moose Jersey or my Atlanta Thrashers Hedberg jersey.

I usually bring Moose a sign if I know he's playing or for the holidays.

Christmas I out did myself. My Moose sign had garland and *BAM* Christmas lights and a blinking snowflake. Look out!

Moose totally loves my signs...I can tell. When I have brought signs he has smiled at me, winked at me and once shot a puck at my face. Does anything say fan appreciate like a puck to the face??? I think not. Yeah, I was standing near the net, but it was at ME. Towards ME at MY face. Seriously.

Before this becomes 3,482,038 reasons why I love Johan, let's learn a bit about Mr. Moose.

Before we get to the numbers and bio stuff, how about a basic question..."Why the hell do they call him Moose?" On March 13, Johan was returning from a road trip with the Manitoba Moose when he got the call he'd been waiting for, he was headed to the NHL. Not only did the Pittsburgh Penguins want him, they wanted him ASAP. There was no time to get a custom mask made for the Penguins, so he wore his Manitoba Moose mask.

Hedberg made his NHL debut on March 16, 2001 against Florida. He stopped 41 of 43 shots against Florida and lead the Penguins to a 6-3 victory...all while wearing his his ice-blue-painted Manitoba Moose mask, with the word "Moose" down the side. Fans took to their new goalie and began chanting "mooooooooooooooooose" when he would make a save. Johan at first thought they were booing, but then realize what they were saying.

Moose obviously doesn't mind the nickname as he continues to put a moose on his mask. He also owns a goalie equipment company that is built around his moose name ( ), but the nickname he is said to prefer is Jo-Jo (pronounced yo-yo).

On to the good stuff

Johan Hedberg was born on May 5, 1973 (very close to my birthday...I'm one year older) in Leksand, Sweden to parents Bia and Lars. At age 6 he was by far the youngest on his block and was forced into the net by the older boys when they built a makeshift rink.

His brothers gradually found other interests, but not Johan. He rose through the junior ranks in Sweden, but never seemed to catch the eye of the scouts in the country's elite league. His fortune changed in 1992 when both goal tenders for the Leksand club were injured. He made the most of it. He would be the Leksand starter for the next five years and claw his way on to the national team's roster. In 1994, Johan was drafted in the 9th Round of the NHL Entry Draft, 218th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Johan always wanted to play in North America. Though he had been drafted by Philly, they never even invited him to a prospect camp.

"I always wanted to come to America to play. When they drafted me, I thought
they were going to invite me to camp, but they didn't. They always told me I had
to play on the national team. Well, I was on the national team, but it didn't
seem to help."

Thinking he had a better shot of getting noticed with an independent minor-league team than in Europe, Hedberg came overseas on his own in 1997 and signed with the the Baton Rouge Kingfish of the ECHL. He then played for Detroit and Manitoba of the IHL. The hockey was going well, but he wasn't getting noticed. His family was homesick. His old teammates in Sweden couldn't understand why he was riding across America in a bus when he could be playing for his country's top league. In 1998, Johan decided to go back to Sweden for a year.

In 1998 San Jose acquired Johan's NHL rights from the Flyers. Johan agreed to report to their system the following year. Johan played the 1999-00 with San Jose's AHL then affiliate, the Kentucky Thoroughblades. He played most of the 2000-01 season with the (then) IHL's Manitoba Moose. San Jose gave him a good hard look during those 2 seasons, but had a glut of goalies. With a system filled with goalies such as Evgeni Nabakov and Miikka Kippersoff, Johan was left at 4 on the depth chart. One of the main thing against him was that the other goalies were younger than him.

It was looking like Johan might be washed up at 27, but then March 13 happened. Unbeknownst to Johan, Ed Johnston, the Penguins' then assistant GM had been watching him and wanting him for a while. They had been watching him in all the cities he played and loved him. San Jose would not budge though.
"We tried to get him last year, too, but San Jose just wouldn't budge," Johnston
said. "They had all those goalies, and they wouldn't let them go."
Finally in 2001, for some unknown reason, San Jose decided the really wanted Jeff Norton who was a 35 year old defenseman having a forgettable season in Pittsburgh. He had played in San Jose before and they just had to have him. Finally Pittsburgh had something they could deal to get Hedberg.

In his fantastic NHL debut in Florida, Johan got to show his talent and skill of the game. In the following game, he got to demonstrate his character. On March 17 the Penguins played Tampa Bay. Moose only stopped 15 out of 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Lightning. He was devastated after the loss, sitting in his locker and staring straight ahead. Even though the team had played abysmally in front him, he answered all of the press' questions by blaming himself. At the risk of never seeing another NHL game, he acknowledged he had not played his best game. His final comment was "I'm very sad."
That, as much as any game he has won, carried weight in the Penguins' locker room and showed them just what kind of teammate he was.
"That game meant a lot," Johnston said. "The kid showed he doesn't get
That's when the losing stopped that season.

In the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs Johan led his team to the Conference Finals. Before being eliminated by the New Jersey Devils, the Pens defeated the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres. Johan got shut outs in Game 3 against the Capitals and Game 1 against the Sabres. Johan played 18 games posting a SV% .911 and a GAA of 2.30.

The Pens showed no signs of their former glory in the 2001-02 season. Even though Moose had a respectable .904 SV% and a 2.75 GAA, the Pens finished the season with a 28-41-8-5.

For the 2002-03 season Johan was determined to get his game back any way he could. During the off season, Johan started seeing a sports psychologist in Sweden. He went a few times each week, each session included 30 minutes of hypnosis.
"I think back on last year and I feel shame. I feel sick," said Hedberg, whose
25-34-7 record set a single-season franchise record for losses. "I didn't just
want to work out my body to get rid of it. I wanted to work out my head, as
Hedberg wasn't just upset about losing, he was upset about losing his cool and breaking sticks over the net. He was hoping the hypnosis would help him regain his composure.
"I think this is going to help me. I'm learning to be more patient, how to
handle everything better," Hedberg said. "You have to have control of your
emotions in my position."

So that's why we don't see too many Moose fits in Atlanta! It definitely worked.

Moose regained his composure but did NOT regain his record for the 2002-03 season. And since I'm a goalie girl and think it is NEVER the goalies fault...the Penguins didn't regain any of their scoring ability either. Hey, there has to be a reason they were able to draft Malkin and Crosby, right? The Pens finished the season with a 27-44-6-5.

In 2003 the Penguins traded Johan to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2nd round draft pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He spent most of the season playing for the Canucks. He played 21 games and had a .900 SV% and a 2.52 GAA. He did play 2 games for his old buddies, the Manitoba Moose.

During the lockout, Johan went home to Sweden and played for the Leksands IF.

Johan was picked up as an unrestricted free agent by the Dallas Stars for the 2005-06. You won't see much ice time backing up Marty Turco, but Moose did manage to play 19 games and pick up 12 wins while posting a 2.67 GAA and a .898.

On July 1, 2006 Moose came "home" (of course it's his home) when he was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Atlanta Thrashers.

One of Moose's early memorable moments as a Thrasher came on October 27, 2006. In a game against Philly where Moose had stopped 29 out of 31 goals, then coach, Bob Hartley, decides to pull Moose and put in a cold Lehtonen for the shootout. Coaching FAIL. He made both goalies look bad. I guess he didn't know he was dealing with the SHOOT OUT CHAMPION!

Since coming to Atlanta, Moose has proven to be a valuable member of the Thrashers on and off the ice. On the ice he's proved to be a reliable back up goalie. When Kari goes down, and Moose has to step up, he gives everything he has. He's money in the bank on shoot outs.

Moose is a very entertaining goalie to watch. He is very athletic and does quite a bit of puck handling. Hanging out with Marty Turco, another great puck handling goalie, didn't hurt, but he got his start with handling the puck back in Sweden with teammate Olie Sundstrom. Sundstrom would invite Moose over to his house to watch videos of Ron Hextall. Sundstrom and Hedberg would meet at the rink at 7 a.m. before the rest of the team arrived and they would shoot pucks to each other until their wrists hurt.

That puck handling practice was put to good use on December 26, 2005, when Hedberg recorded two assists in a game against the St. Louis Blues. This is the first time a Dallas Stars goalie has ever accomplished this feat, and the first time any goalie in the NHL has done it since Patrick Roy on December 29, 2000.

This is one of the most awesome things ever caught on film. Forget that dumb snow leopard, a giant squid or even a Yeti....I give you....the diving poke check! Moose's most dramatic move. It's glorious when he connects and he usually does. Yeah, I totally took that picture. Okay, so I did NOT take this picture. Mr. Fred, the god of Thrashers hockey photography took it and was nice enough to let me use it.

Off of the ice he is a roll model and an inspiration for his team mates. TWICE he has been voted for Players' Player award. This is an award voted on by the players and given to the person who best exemplifies teamwork. He was also the Thrashers nomination for the King Clancy award this year. He shows up for every training camp in tip top shape and is frequently said to be the best conditioned athlete in the locker room. He is a great mentor for our young goalies Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelic. I can see a difference in Kari's puck handling last season. He even threw out a few poke checks.

As most hockey players do, Johan is involved with his community. He is involved in several charities including the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation. He also visits hospitals with other Thrashers.

What got me into Moose Mania? Well I'm a very simple girl. I love goalies, so he already had some points. Then I heard people yelling Moooooose. Well, I love to yell and chant shit. DONE! Loved him. Well then I saw him. WOW! Okay, yeah he's easy on the eyes, too. What is really special though is he is a genuinely nice guy. Every time I've met him he's gone above and beyond to make sure everyone has pictures and all of their stuff signed.
This is the last year of his current contract. I am slowly building myself up for the day that he leaves Atlanta. It will be a sad one for me. In my dreams he signs another contract here and when that is over he becomes our goalie coach. We'll see. Until then...Mooooooooooooooose!!!


mean mom productions August 4, 2009 at 6:35 AM  

hubba hubba hubba hubba..get me some ice and cool me off..

he's definitely a hottie

Sunshine36616 August 4, 2009 at 5:58 PM  

Yes, he's easy on the eyes, but so much more. He's such a nice guy. He should hire me to be his PR person lol.

Thanks for the comment!

Candace August 5, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

Wonderful post!

I can honestly say, you've converted me to a Moose-lover over the last year or're *fantastic* for his PR! :-)


Sunshine36616 August 5, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

Thanks! He should put me on the payroll. I'd work for season tickets :)

Shana November 23, 2009 at 11:33 AM  

That was an awesome post. I just loove him. I have always liked Goalies too, but I don't like Marc Andre Fleury lol. I really don't know why but I think the biggest part of it is that he is not Johan Hedberg. :P


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