Carl Gunnarsson, 25, has five points in 16 games this season. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
With Kevin Kennedy
I played my first game on an outdoor rink in Orebro, Sweden. We had two rinks next to each other, one with a roof and one completely outdoors. The youngest age groups played on the outdoor rink before you graduated to in the indoor one. We didn’t have glass at many rinks when I was young, instead they had fencing that went around the boards.
We didn’t start body contact until we were 14 years old so that was a big moment I remember. These days I think they start contact at 12 which I think is better because when you’re 14 there is a big difference in size between players and it’s better to get used to it before and learn to keep your head up.
I’ve always been a defenseman except when I played goalie. I played both goalie and defense until I was about 11 years old, but I switched to defense permanently just because I was better at it. When you can play defense, you can really play every position because you see the game and you also need to be a good skater.
I remember a big moment in my minor hockey career which was good and bad. We played a Czech team at a rink just outside Gothenburg and they were outstanding. We lost the game 16-0 and I was goalie for half the game and let in like nine goals. I mean, the good part was because it was still a good experience and it was nice to get out of our town to play a game and to see how good other teams were.
I remember we didn’t even stay in a hotel. We stayed in a big hall or gymnasium and just slept in sleeping bags. It was great. We stayed up all night talking and running around.
As a kid I idolized the players on the junior team in my city, but I also looked up to guys like Nick Lidstrom. I didn’t get to watch many NHL games on TV as a kid, but would watch whenever I could and I would definitely watch all the national team games.
My dad is a carpenter so I worked with him most summers, but have pretty much been full-time in hockey since I was 16. I actually thought a lot about what I would do if I didn’t make it to the NHL and I took some University courses and also volunteered at a school to teach Phys Ed twice a week when I was in the minors because I thought I would work in education if hockey didn’t work out.
I don’t really have a good story behind the No. 36 I wear. They gave it to me when I got called up for the first time and I ended up playing 40 games so I didn’t want to switch after that.
The day I got called up I was practicing with the Marlies and the coach, Dallas Eakins, took me aside and told me the news, so I went over to the ACC and the guys were on the ice and I joined them on the trip to Chicago.
Getting called up didn’t happen the way I thought it was going to. I played 12 games in the American League and I didn’t think I did that well. I had a good training camp and I can only guess that’s why I got called up. When I skated for the first time with the Leafs I was very nervous. I didn’t even play that game in Chicago, but I got in the next game at home versus Calgary. My first shift was with Luke Schenn, but really the only thing I remember from that game was Jarome Iginla. I think he scored two or three goals and his speed was incredible.