Despite being a rookie in the PHF this season with the Metropolitan Riveters, 24-year-old defender Ebba Berglund has been playing professional hockey for nine seasons now. After eight seasons in her home nation of Sweden, she was looking for a new challenge and found it in North America/with the Rivs.
“I’ve lived away from my hometown for a lot of years, 8-9 hours away in Sweden. So those things don’t affect me too much,” Berglund told The Ice Garden following a February morning practice. “I love this adventure I’m on now and I look at it as a journey and I’m not quite ready to be done with it yet.”
She represented Sweden at the last Winter Olympics, and also has two SDHL championships on her mantle. Berglund likely had many offers and suitors of her services this past off-season, but what made her decide to move halfway around the world to sign with the PHF’s Riveters?
“I think in general just how they wanted to run the program (was appealing to me), how dedicated they were. From four ice times per week plus games, and having a set-up where everything is in one place,” the defender explained. “I was excited that Venla (Hovi) was going to be the coach; I never played with her, but played against her a little bit. I have some friends who are friends with her and she seemed like a really good person. Obviously, that was proven right, she’s a great coach. Overall, just the way everything is set up. From the top all the way down to the players, everyone is involved and it feels like a big family.”
Oftentimes in women’s hockey even if you haven’t played in a league, or played with certain players, chances are someone that you know has or did and can give you insights when decisions like Berglund’s have to be made.
“Before coming into this I didn’t really know what to expect, other than that they increased the salary cap for this season. That was going to attract a lot of good players and bring up the level (of play) a lot. I’ve never played anywhere else but Sweden, and I thought this would be a challenge for myself,” Berglund revealed when we asked what she knew about the PHF prior to signing with the Riveters on May 16.
“It’s a faster game in general here, a lot of highly skilled players. Also, I was coming from really big rinks in Europe, and on the smaller rinks I think it makes the game faster automatically. You have to be on your toes every day and really have to work.”
“Having a month of practice time before the season helped me, too. It helped within our group as well, we have 17 new players,” she added, “so we’re like a brand new team basically. Just coming together, getting to know everyone - and their strengths - and playing off each other’s strengths.”
Although Berglund never lived or played anywhere other than Sweden before this season she did have a prior friendship with a current teammate. Oh, and she’s played in New Jersey once before; it was against the Riveters!
“I played with Sarah (Bujold) with HV71 in Sweden last year, but otherwise everyone (here) was new faces to me. I’ve played against most of the Finns, but not with them. It’s been a great experience playing with them,” she said with a grin.
Berglund laughed a bit when we asked about a Swede playing alongside a trio of Finns here with the Riveters, but also mentioned how having them around made her feel a little closer to home because Swedes and Finns are similar in many ways - despite being heated rivals on the ice.
On September 29, the defending Isobel Cup champion @Riveters squared off against SDHL champion @LuleaHockey in the Champions Cup, the first-ever meeting between champions of women’s pro hockey leagues! #NWHL2018 pic.twitter.com/6bzqJyOjxR— PHF (@PHF) January 1, 2019
“I’ve been here (in North America) to play tournaments, and when I played with Luleå we played the Riveters in 2018…”
Oh! I was at that game in Princeton! Ya’ll won, took the trophy and we never saw it again haha!
“Oh yes we went home with it,” she said through a laugh, “I’m not going to say if it broke or not….”
Berglund’s English is phenomenal by the way, as is the case with the Finns. As we found out, those countries make it mandatory to learn from a young age and from our perspective it definitely works. There is nothing really that gets lost in translation when having conversations with them.
“Speaking English has been helpful, I’ve played with English-speaking players before, but getting their jokes is maybe the hardest adjustment - but I’ve been able to chip in and say I do have a personality! That all gets better with time,” she said.
“We learn English from second grade and I think everyone has to take English. A lot of shows on TV are in English and you rarely watch Swedish shows, but you just have to talk. My grandma was an English teacher, so she was on me a lot haha.”
This season hasn’t gone as planned for the Rivs, not breaking any news here, but in a lot of ways it isn’t a surprise considering how many new players are on the team this season - 17. Berglund, a defensive defender, has chipped in one assist in the 16 games she has played.
“It’s a journey for our team as well with all of the new players. We weren’t expecting it to run super smooth from the start, and obviously, we didn’t want to be in this position, but we are still going to give it our all. Being able to continue building this is going to be the key to the success of the Riveters.”
When asked if she would like to return for a second season in the PHF with the Riveters, Berglund didn’t hesitate with her reply and didn’t leave any intrigue at all.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. I really like it here and I really love the Riveters. Absolutely (I would want to come back).”
“Everyone behind the scenes has helped make this a great experience for us all and made everyone feel at home because so many of us are far from home,” Berglund admitted. “Having this feel like a family, away from our families, has really paid off I think, and everyone has been able to rely on each other with mental health and things like that. We’ve become a close group.”
One thing that has derailed the Riveters over the past three seasons has been the amount of turnover on the roster from season to season. If they can keep a core group of players around for next season, Berglund included, and maybe keep the same coaching staff as well, perhaps next season around this time they’ll be talking about getting ready for the playoffs rather than if they’d like to return for another season.
Berglund isn’t the biggest player, not the fastest, nor the most skilled. But she is so dedicated to the sport, its growth, and leaving things in good hands for the next generation. The PHF needs more Ebba Berglunds, and the Riveters would be wise to re-sign her this off-season.