The Swedish pipeline keeps paying off for the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Forward Sebastian Fuchs, 17, is the latest in an increasing string of Swedish imports to make an immediate impact halfway around the globe from their home country.
Playing on the Bears’ top scoring line, Fuchs has six goals and six assists in 10 games, a point total that ties him for third in the North American Hockey League.
“It’s just like anywhere else — once a couple of players come from certain areas and programs, they gain trust in the coaching and development of the program,” Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “We’ve always had a good tradition of getting solid players from Sweden.”
The tradition started in the 2009-10 season, when the Bears traded for Johan Skinnars of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Skinnars recorded 39 points in just 28 games.
In 2010-11, defenseman Erik Persson and goalie Mathias Dahlstrom continued the trend.
After no Swedish players in 2011-12, forward Albin Karlsson and goalie Gustaf Johansson joined the squad for 2012-13.
This season, Karlsson and Fuchs are joined by defenseman Gustav Berglund.
Fuchs’ path to Alaska is a familiar one. He wants to play college hockey in the United States, so he worked with Scandinavian Hockey Consulting to make that happen.
Scandinavian Hockey Consulting was founded in 2009 to help European players make the transition to the American junior and college ranks.
Scouting a player halfway around the world is tough, but Beauparlant said the Bears rely on video and the word of Skinnars and Kali Larsen.
“We have a good relationship with guys over there,” Beauparlant said. “Sebastian is one of the guys who came as advertised.”
Beauparlant said video can be tricky, but in Fuchs’ case the strong impression on video translated onto the ice.
That meant it didn’t take long for Beauparlant to insert Fuchs on a line with Butcher and Karlsson. Fuchs would be replacing United States Hockey League forward Alex Jackstadt on last year’s famed “94 Triple-A” line, so named for the birth year and first names of the linemates.
“(Fuchs) is young, but he is learning quickly,” said Butcher, who leads the NAHL with 14 points. “He still has things to learn, but he is going to be really good in this league if he keeps learning as quickly as he has.”
Even though both Karlsson and Fuchs are from around Stockholm, Karlsson said he did not know Fuchs until playing with him a little this summer.
“He’s a really smart player and he makes things happen,” said Karlsson, who has eight points this year and is the team’s lone Division I recruit thus far. “It’s easy to play with him.”
Beauparlant said Fuchs still needs to work on explosive skating and strength, but his awareness is already top end.
“He’s able to see plays before they happen,” the coach said. “He has a way of finding open space, and not only getting the puck to his teammates, but finding the space so they can get it back to him.”
Fuchs said a number of factors have aided his transition on and off the ice.
On the ice, Fuchs said the game is faster than what he had been playing in Sweden, but he said he likes that.
He credits Butcher and Karlsson with his fast start.
“I am playing with two very good players,” Fuchs said. “They are two fast skaters and we have the chemistry it takes to be a line.”
After the first two games of the season, Butcher, a center, was moved to the wing so Fuchs could play center. Fuchs uses his vision to spring the speedy Butcher and Karlsson.
“With our line, we play a lot in the offensive zone,” Butcher said. “As long as we are playing that much offense, we can have two centers on the line.”
Off the ice, Fuchs also is making a nice transition.
Last season, Karlsson, 19, was fine on the ice, sewing up a Division I scholarship early in the season, but said the off-ice transition was hard.
Even at 17, Fuchs said living so far from home is going well.
“I talk to both of my parents on the phone every day,” he said of Anna and Mikeal.
Fuchs’ host parents, Art and Lori Karvonen, are experienced at hosting Swedish players, and Fuchs is living at that house with Berglund.
“It helped a lot having two from Sweden on the team in the first few weeks,” Fuchs said. “I was able to speak Swedish with them while I grew into the American language.”
Fuchs said he has been speaking English for five or six years and he is conversant in the language. He said he spends three hours per day doing online coursework in Sweden.
Beauparlant said Fuchs’ maturity is showing through in his businesslike transition to the NAHL, although the forward did let his hair down a little bit, literally, in dressing as a hot nurse for Wednesday’s rookie dinner.
“He’s a very unassuming kid who goes about his business,” the coach said. “He works hard off the ice and demands excellence from himself and others, almost to a fault.”
Beauparlant said the other thing that stands out about Fuchs is his willingness to put in extra work on shooting and puck handling when nobody is watching.
Fuchs said that is because he aspires to play college hockey and beyond.
“I want to be a hockey player for a living,” he said. “If I’m going to be a pro, I have to put in the work now.”