September 28, 2015

Johan Hedberg

Johan Hedberg seemingly came out of nowhere in 2001 to become the Pittsburgh Penguins miracle worker. Affectionately dubbed "Moose" he captured the hearts of Pittsburgh hockey fans that spring, and launched a lengthy NHL career.

Hedberg grew up playing informal shinny and road hockey games with the neighborhood kids, including older brothers Anders and Bjorn, back in Leksand, Sweden. Being the youngest kid, like so many kids worldwide, he was immediately thrust into net. It was the only way they'd let him play. He loved it, and never played another position.

Johan was the only one who continued playing. He thanked his mother for her role in his hockey career.

"I was the only one who kept playing, so I always had to find my own way with it. My mother would help me, too," he told Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. " She was the one who would drive me, who would always be there, selling hot dogs and programs, organizing everything. And that was all the time. I spent so much time at rinks. I never wanted to leave."

Hedberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers way back in 1994 (218th overall) but he never came close to playing for them. He was never even invited to a training camp with the Flyers, and never signed. He remained in Sweden for every season but one until 1999 when he toiled with the Kentucky Thoroughblades.

Though he finally had signed with the San Jose Sharks organization, he was buried behind the likes of Evgeny Nabokov, Mikka Kirprusoff, Vesa Toskala and Steve Shields.

In 2000-01 the Sharks placed him with the Manitoba Moose and though he had a good season in Manitoba, he remained almost completely unknown.

That would change with a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March of 2001.  He joined the team immediately and went on an incredible run with the black and gold. All while wearing his funny looking powered blue Moose mask, endearing him to fans throughout the hockey world.

Hedberg would finish the season 7-1-1 with the Penguins, and marched the team all the way into the third round of the playoffs. He outduelled Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals in the first round, and bested Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres before bowing out to Martin Brodeur's New Jersey Devils.

All of this finally happened two years after his mother passed away.

"I always knew she would help me out. I'm sure she's up there helping me out right now, and I think she's the happiest person there is."

Hedberg's unlikely arrival led to a lengthy career. He returned as the undisputed number one goalie in Pittsburgh the next season and he was part of Team Sweden at the 2002 Olympics. The funny blue mask was gone and replaced with proper Penguins colours, but the popular Moose cartoon remained prominent.

After an injury plagued 2002-03 season Hedberg was traded to Vancouver where he spent the season backing up Dan Cloutier. After the lost lockout season Hedberg joined the Dallas Stars, backing up Marty Turco.

In 2006 Hedberg, who once sought the help of a sports psychologist who practice hypnosis, signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Thrashers where he enjoyed four seasons

After serving backing up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey for three years, Hedberg retired and became a scout and a coach.

“I think I learned a lot from seeing the game from a different perspective from up in the stands, watching for other things when you’re scouting,” he said. “Even though you scout players when you play, this was a different thing, so I think I have a better understanding about the AHL and what it takes to make the next step from being in the minors to the NHL. So, I think that’s going to be something that is going to help me in this job too.”

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