HERSHEY, PA — On a Hershey Bears squad full of young guns, one forward quickly stands out on the ice, as his locks of golden blonde hair blow in the breeze as he skates by – okay, maybe that’s not the only reason Axel Jonsson-Fjällby stands out.
The Caps’ 2016 fifth-round draft pick is making the jump to North America from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. But moving to a new country can bring a bunch of new challenges. The 20-year-old is tackling life on and off the ice, all at once. “It’s a lot of adjustment on and off the ice actually. On the ice, just the way the game is played here with the smaller rink – more physical, more attacking the net,” Fjällby said.
Even with the rink size disparity between Sweden and America, the familiarity of hockey takes hold on the ice for Fjällby. “I like the small rink. Although it takes some time to adjust to, I think I like it more and more as I adjust more and more. I think with the way I play, the smaller rink could really help me.”
On top of adjusting to the play, Jonsson- Fjällby is also adulting in full force. From getting a U.S. bank account to a car and a drivers license, this kid is taking on all the things we often dread doing.
Luckily for him, he’s lived by himself in Sweden for the last few seasons, so he’s used to doing some laundry and cooking. Nonetheless, that’s a lot to take on in your free time from hockey in a different country.
He’s not the only one in the Bears’ lineup adapting to playing pro and even moving to America. Nineteen of the 27 players on the Bears’ current roster are 24 and under, with the youngest being 19 (Geisser) and the oldest being 30 (Pyett). There are also players from Russia, Canada, Latvia, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Having such a young, diverse core has helped Fjällby in the move.
“I like that we have a younger group of guys because it feels like everyone is always trying their best to show themselves. I think we all have the same goal and that really helps. It’s also fun with a bunch of new guys you haven’t met before, and I think we’re getting to know each other really well, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
In addition to his teammates support, the Bears’ fans are also giving a little extra-added encouragement. “When you go to away games and sometimes there isn’t a lot of people there, but it seems like in Hershey, there’s always a good crowd – they’re loud and that really helps us when we play.”
Though the crowd helps the team, the production of games is a little bit different from Sweden, too. “They really try to make the crowd enjoy themselves. Back in Sweden, it’s pretty much just to watch the hockey game, but here it’s a whole bunch of stuff [promotions/games] between periods and breaks.”
That’s not the only difference he’s seen in America. Besides having a lot of chocolates and sweets around (yeah, welcome to Hershey, Pa.), some of his fellow Bears’ have a weird choice in TV shows. “Usually in the mornings, we have Family Feud on. It feels like the Americans love that kind of show, but back in Sweden we don’t watch that.”
While Jonsson-Fjallby is judging his teammate’s TV viewing habits, they’re teasing him on his hair. “I feel like that’s such a stupid tease, because I’m aware I have long hair. I like the long hair off the ice with the man bun, so that’s pretty much why I have it.” Well we surveyed a hundred people and the top answer was – we’re in favor of the long hair! (And yes, that was a Family Feud reference.) Man bun on, Axel.
Oh, and for those looking for some shampoo and conditioner recommendations, you’re out of luck – “Ugh, not really, I just use whatever shampoo there is,” he said with a smile.
By: Tori Hartman
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