At the age of 14, Washington Capitals prospect Bobby Nardella played youth hockey with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ William Nylander for the Chicago Missions U14 team. The team would ultimately produce four NHL players…so far. For Nardella, he hopes that a season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) will help him become the fifth.
“Exactly, it was he, Nick Schmaltz (Arizona), Anders Bjork (Boston) and Christian Dvorak (Arizona) who all made it all the way to the NHL. Then there are some of us who play or have played in the AHL. I think at least every one of us on that team played college hockey at the highest level and received scholarships to do so. So you can say that it was a damn good team and a very fun year,” he said with a wide smile.
On September 30, the Washington Capitals announced that they had loaned defenseman Bobby Nardella to Djurgadens IF of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2020-21 season. Nardella feels very fortunate for the loan.
“I was lucky enough to get a really good place here, one of the best in the league,” he told hockeysverige.se about playing for Djurgården.
Nardella quickly proved himself with three assists in the first five games he played for Djurgarden. He also quickly became the driver of Djurgarden’s top power play unit. However, it has also been a time of challenges since Nardella arrived in Sweden, as the team experienced a COVID-19 outbreak just a few weeks ago.
“Everything went well until the infection came and made up for it. It has been a pretty big change to come here and it was of course not easier because we had to pause the business, but now it is nice that we are back on a more normal schedule again,” Nardella said after a 6 2-victory against Linköping, the team’s second game back after a 21-day break.
“We could not do much together because some of the guys were sick. It meant that we had to stay in different locations, but when we could start again and it was a national team break, it gave us a little extra time to acclimate and above all (else) get to know the guys.”
Nardella is adapting to the larger rink size, and different style of play in Sweden, but is satisfied with his progress so far.
“I think the Swedish game suits me in many ways. The passing game, the puck battles and the powerplay … There is more space out there and I try to use that to my advantage. For me, it’s about getting used to having more time to make decisions than I normally have in North America. Once I get used to it, I think it will get even better. But I am satisfied so far.”
Nardella was idling at home in Illinois when the opportunity to play in Sweden surfaced.
“My agents called around and checked if there were any places available. They contacted Djurgården who did some research on me and it seemed to suit both them and me, so here I am now.”
For Nardella, it was a great opportunity.
“It was the best opportunity for me to play hockey while everyone at home is waiting. I was lucky enough to get a really good place here, one of the best in the league, so I’m happy to be here.”
Nardella only needed to pick up the phone and get in touch with his Hershey Bears’ teammate, Axel Jonsson Fjällby, who is currently on loan to Allsvenskan Västerviks IK, but played several seasons with Djurgarden before coming to North America.
“Yes, of course I talked to him. He loved to play here and when he says that it weighs heavily. He is a really good guy and we hung out a lot when we played together last year,” said Nardella.
“It definitely helps when you know someone who knows the place and knows how it works. But coming to a beautiful city like Stockholm felt attractive anyway and it was an easy decision when I was faced with the alternative.”
But Nardella is not lost in the beauty of Stockholm.
“I want first and foremost to develop as a player, to be able to play matches when everyone at home is training. There are very many skilled players here who have played in the NHL and AHL and there is good resistance, good training and overall a very good atmosphere. For me, it is also a great experience to come to Sweden and play professionally here after playing at home in North America all my life. I think it will help me get better.”
By Jon Sorensen