Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hungry for More: Slimmed-Down Andersson Anxious for Second Helping of the NHL

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After devouring the appetizer, Rasmus Andersson can't wait for the main course.

It's an analogy, a reference to his four-week stay with Calgary late last season and his desire to make the NHL for good next time.

Fifteen months ago, it wasn't an analogy, it was his suppertime routine.

To refresh your memory, Flames general manager Brad Treliving was none too pleased with Andersson's fitness level at last year's development camp. The result was a public scolding for the 6-foot-0 defenceman.

Message received.

Last year at training camp, his conditioning was a bit better. This year, it was much better.

Noticeably leaner, Andersson checked in earlier this month at around 210 pounds, down considerably from where he was at in July 2016.

"It feels good," says Andersson. "I feel like I have a lot of jump. It's noticeable."

Making Smarter Choices

Last year in Stockton in his first year of pro, he spent a lot of time with Alan Selby, the Heat's strength and conditioning coach. He also has two strength coaches in Sweden he works with in the off-season.

Ryan Huska
"You just have to change the way you eat," says Andersson, who turns 21 in October. "Obviously it's not easy, but it's a lifestyle and it feels better."

When Calgary's rookies arrived in town to do their fitness testing 10 days ago, Treliving spoke to the improvements Andersson has made.

"At this level, the expectation is you do the work," said Treliving. "Ras has put in a lot of work. He’s dialled it in here. We all know his ability and he’s going to determine how far he goes with it.”

At the conclusion of rookie camp, Stockton coach Ryan Huska acknowledged how far Andersson has come in a year.

"They often don't know how to take care of themselves when they first start and he's probably a good example of that," said Huska. "He learned some tough lessons over the course of the year and I think he did a good job over the summer getting down to a level our development group wanted him at.

"Now, it's a matter of staying there, continuing to improve and making sure he's stronger with his overall game. Now the strength comes into play, now the overall conditioning comes into play, and these are all the things that he has to be committed to."

NHL Stint Served as Motivation

The purpose of an appetizer is to stimulate or increase your appetite by getting the juices flowing inside your stomach.

While Andersson only dressed for one game while he was with the Flames from March 11 through April 9, the whole experience left him wanting more. Much more.

"Don't get me wrong, we have a good set-up in Stockton -- good travel and a nice rink, but once you come up to the NHL, the bus picks you up when you leave your flight, you don't have to go through any terminals. Bus takes you all the way to the hotel. You stay in one of the nicest hotels in town.

"It's a completely different lifestyle. Your paycheque is way different, the flights, everything is different. So that motivates you even more that you want to be up there full time. You don't want to be up and down, or just up a few times."

Those lasting memories, that entire experience, it's what gives you that little extra boost in the off-season to help you push through a gruelling workout.

"When I got home this summer, I said to myself, I don't want to be in the AHL. The NHL is where I want to be," says Andersson. "I think I have a better shot this year than last year because I'm in better shape. I've just got to do my thing and play my game and we'll see how far it goes."

Main camp got underway at the Saddledome this weekend. As part of Team 'C', Andersson has been paired with 2017 first rounder Juuso Valimaki. The two also skated together in Penticton with Andersson picking up three primary assists in three games.

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Adventurous First Call-Up

Andersson chuckles as he recounts the whirlwind scramble last year when he got the call he was joining the Flames.

"Me and Andrew (Mangiapane) just had dinner. We watched the Calgary-Montreal game and I saw two defencemen go down and I remember, he told me, be ready if they call you now, but I'm like, 'I don't think they'll call me.'"

Turns out, they were about to. Both Michael Stone and Dougie Hamilton had been injured against the Canadiens. Stone was going to be out for a while and Hamilton's status was not yet known.

"It was about 10:30 p.m. and I was just about to jump in the shower and go to bed when (Flames assistant GM) Brad Pascall called me and said I was going to be picked up in 20 minutes."

That first NHL call-up for a young player is a big deal, but he had no time to soak up the moment as his ride was on the way to whisk him away to the San Francisco airport.

"How long am I going to be there? How much am I going to bring? You just start thinking about everything," Andersson said.

Hung Out to Dry

Adding an additional layer of complexity to the mad scramble, he was in the middle of doing his laundry. So he grabbed a garbage bag and started chucking in his clothes -- shirts, pants, socks, underwear, all of it soaking wet.

Rasmus Andersson
So there he stood, waiting for his ride (Adam Berger, Team Services) to show up, with his suit bag and a garbage bag.

"Luckily it was late at night, nobody really saw me," says Andersson with a smile.

Once he got to the San Francisco airport hotel, he opened up the garbage bag and hung up everything to dry. He flew to Calgary first thing the next morning, then headed straight over to the Flames private air terminal where he chartered with the team to Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, while all that was going on, another fire drill was taking place back in Sweden.

"It was 6 in the morning back home so I didn't really want to call my parents yet, but while we were driving to the airport, Adam told me, just call them, wake them up. So I called my mother and she was freaking out because I thought I was going to play," Andersson says.

"They told me to be ready to play. They weren't sure if Dougie was going to play, so my mom booked her flight at 7 a.m. and flew out at noon."

'Tis But a Scratch

As the story goes, Dennis Wideman was inserted for Stone and Hamilton was ruled good-to-go (and went out and assisted on all three goals in Calgary's 3-0 win) so after all that, Andersson ended up a healthy scratch -- with his travel-weary Mom in MTS Centre along with him.

"But I still got to spend a lot of time with my mom and I hadn't seen her in 4-5 months so that was nice," Andersson says.

After five or six days, his mom flew home, but Andersson wasn't jetting anywhere quite yet.

As the Flames push for the playoffs continued, coach Glen Gulutzan rolled with the same line-up on the blueline with Andersson at the ready, just in case. Andersson ended up watching 14 games from the press box before he finally made his NHL debut in game 82,

"I did not get frustrated at all. I just took everything in," recalls Andersson. "You just get to the rink every day and try to make an impression in practice."

Given Calgary's position in the standings, he admits he wasn't expecting to play either.

"I had no expectations at all that they were going to change the line-up because that wouldn't be fair to the other guys who have been playing the whole year and me as a younger guy, coming up and having not played a game yet," he says. "I was just up there in case anything happened and if I did get the shot, I would have been ready."

Long-Awaited Debut

Being ready included getting fully geared up and taking the warm-up before all but a couple of the games, just in case.

It also involved skating every day, which was a lonely experience.

"Because we played every other day, there wasn't any real team practices. So it was basically me, (Curtis) Lazar and Freddie Hamilton who were on the ice every day."

Getting to visit with one of his best friends -- fellow Swede Andre Burakovsky -- when the team was in Washington, was another highlight.

The game he finally drew into was in San Jose at the SAP Center, a familiar building for Andersson as it's also home to the AHL's San Jose Barracudas, a team Stockton had played numerous times that year already.

"When I was sitting in the dressing room and I just looked around, I was pretty calm before the game, which surprised me a little bit," said Andersson. "But I had been there before, I knew the building.

"But after the national anthem, you see the fans, how fired up they were. That's when I realized that damn, I've got to be ready. It's a moment I'll never forget."

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Final Word

While Andersson had a great rookie season in Stockton with 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 54 games while going a plus-13, Huska says he still has work to do.

"Consistency is one thing. Every day he needs to be on point," Huska said. "When you look at his overall game, he thinks the game very well. He needs to do things a little bit quicker.

"He's always going to be a guy that plays the game with composure and poise, that's what he is and that's one of his strengths as a player. He needs to speed up his decision-making sometimes with the puck and work on a little bit more straight-line play."

Barring an injury to someone on the right side -- Hamilton, newcomer Travis Hamonic, or the re-inked Michael Stone -- Andersson will have to wait his turn.

Until that main course is served and maybe it's not until 2018-19 or later that he has gets an opportunity to crack the line-up for good, he'll have to be satisfied with nibbling on the occasional appetizer in the form of any call-ups that happen throughout the season.

"I've just got to go out there and show my best side every day and take it day-by-day and see how far it goes."

As the Flames No. 3 prospect according to my latest rankings and the top up-and-coming blueliner, seems it's only a matter of time before the main course is served. With maybe even a dessert to follow.

Of course, it would be a 'healthy choice' dessert'. This is, after all, the new and improved, and leaner, Rasmus Andersson.

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1 comment:

  1. It is certainly nice to have the depth on D that it seems the Flames have. More importantly nice to see the young man make the changes required to make the next step. If all the development of the D core works out the transition over the next 2-4 years could be awesome.