It is the little issues that depend: Omaha striker Martin Sundberg has made a scorching begin and appears like a model new participant this season
Martin Sundberg introduced himself during his junior season, during which he skated 33 of the 36 Mavericks 36 games. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.
It was anything but an ordinary summer for Omaha striker Martin Sundberg. Due to the tightened travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the native Swede from Linkoping had to leave his home country and spend 14 days in another country before he could return to the USA.
“When the virus broke out, we had the opportunity to go home,” said Sundberg. “The school was completely converted online, so I went back to Sweden. I got one of the last flights from Omaha and then went home for over three months. Returning was difficult, however, as Sweden was on the (Schengen) list of countries from which you could not enter even though I had a visa.
“I actually had to go to Croatia and lived there for 15 days with one of the men who play football and one who plays women’s basketball, both here at the UN. We were together every 15 days and then flew to New York and then drove to Omaha from there, so it was quite a trip. “
Five months later, Sundberg lives alone in a hotel room in the city to which he has become so used over the past three seasons. In addition to studying at school, the focus is on hockey. 10 games in 21 days as the NCHC Pod is held at the Baxter Arena. It’s an unusual situation, but it’s a sacrifice that he and his teammates were willing to make in order to play.
“It’s different, but I think it’s how you see it,” said Sundberg. “We see it as an opportunity to play and we can be here because we don’t have to be here. I think it’s just a mindset and we’re just so happy to be able to play again. Yes, there are no fans, but our friends, family and fans can watch TV. Staying in a hotel that is only a few minutes’ walk from your apartment and school is certainly a little unique, but we were all able to adjust to that. “
Aside from the different lifestyles of testing three times a week and playing without fans, there was another change in the pod for Sundberg. In four games, the 6’4,194-pound winger looks like a different player than he did a year ago.
“I think I’ve really built up from last year,” said Sundberg. “I try to be strong in front of the net and work in these difficult areas, and I help my teammates and linemates as much as possible. I’m certainly confident at the moment, but I have to pay tribute to my coaches and team-mates for having come after that in the last three months. We were hoping for a season and we came to the rink every day and tried to get better. We are definitely in shape now and I like the way we started. “
Martin Sundberg’s fourth goal of the season was his biggest, an overtime winner 17 seconds after the start of the extra frame against Miami. Photo taken by Mark Kuhlmann / NCHC.
In 33 games last season, Sundberg scored five goals and had 12 points as a junior. After just four games in 2020-21, he’s already over half that goal. He is currently sitting at three goals and five points.
It’s a change of scene, however, as scoring goals was never exactly the forte of his game. During the juniors and first three years of college, Sundberg was the most represented in a season at 12 (2015-16 with Janesville, NAHL), and that was split over 43 games. Even after the hot start to this season, he doesn’t try to concentrate on it.
“I don’t usually think about scoring out there,” said Sundberg. “My game is difficult to play and battles to be won. I usually worry about being tall in front of the net, good at penalties, and only communicating on the ice – all those little things. That’s what I imagine well and what I want to contribute every evening. Even this off-season, I focused on my pace and got better on both ends.
“Of course it’s nice to score, but that’s not what I’m out for. Everyone has a skill at this level, but I think the little things are key and I’m very proud of them. “
Sundberg said he first spoke to Omaha while playing for Fargo (USHL) during a showcase in Omaha. He had heard good things about the atmosphere, the facilities and the community and wanted to find a place where he “felt at home”. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.
Those “little things” were obvious and that helped him improve his game. Sundberg looked more like an all-round player early on. He’s figured out what works and his head coach knows exactly what he’s going to get out of him every night.
“He’s done a great job creating an identity,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Gabinet. “I think it’s a great thing when a hockey player establishes an identity, especially on our level. He’s a great striker who is a great F1.
“He brings pucks into the net and is present on the net all the time. He took that big step for us last year and continues this season. “
That hard work and identity gave him a home in the top line of the Mavericks with Nolan Sullivan and Jack Randl in the early games. Sundberg said the two are great guys outside of the rink that has carried over to the ice. The chemistry shows how the trio combined for seven goals and 10 points.
“We click really well, and have been for a few weeks,” said Sundberg. “We’re three hardworking players so we feed each other and just work well together. We have good chemistry and I think the last four games have shown that. “
Sundberg and Sullivan celebrate a goal against Minnesota Duluth. Sundberg, Sullivan and Randl each came to an end in the first two games of this season. Sundberg was nominated for NCHC Forward of the Week earlier this week. Photo taken by Mark Kuhlmann / NCHC.
The man in the middle of their line saw it too. He can tell Sundberg that he worked over the summer.
“His strength was shown very early on,” said Sullivan. “It can be said that he had a great off-season. He gained a lot of strength and developed his game in the corners. His level of competition was also not in the charts.
“As a line, I just think we’re doing well, keeping it simple. We focus on defense first, and then offense comes naturally. “
Now in his fourth year in Omaha, Sundberg can’t believe how quickly time has passed. He completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration last August and is currently working on his master’s degree in business administration. On the ice, he has ridden in an Omaha sweater in 66 games.
It’s crazy for him to think, but a little over five years ago the 19-year-old first crossed the Atlantic. A tough decision to leave his friends and family at home especially, but it was a chance to continue his education and continue his hockey career.
“One of my best friends, Nils Rygaard, went to Janesville a year before I did, and then he came back in the summer and spoke to me about it,” said Sundberg. “I wasn’t aware of college hockey and I didn’t know if I could play at all, but he told me I could combine a college degree while playing the sport you love. That kind got me hooked so I decided to leave. “
9 year old Martin Sundberg played for Linkoping HC. Sundberg said no one in his family had played hockey before, but his best friend got him to try the sport when he was around 5 years old. The rest is history. His favorite player was Peter Forsberg. Photo courtesy of Martin Sundberg.
That first year in Janesville, three Swedes were on the Jets roster – Sundberg, Rygaard and Adam Winborg. Even when he played with his compatriots, it was still quite an adjustment.
“The language barrier was quite difficult at first,” said Sundberg. “I didn’t speak English very well, so it was difficult to communicate. I understood most of the things people were telling me, but it was a difficult adjustment at first.
“I had two other guys from Sweden on the team. Even if everyone around me speaks English, this definitely helped speed up the process. “
Sundberg introduced himself as a 9 year old after winning a tournament with Linkoping HC. He said the hardest part of getting to North America is leaving friends and family at home. Although they usually only get to see each other once or twice a year, he tries to meet his family at least once a week. Photo courtesy of Martin Sundberg.
Fast forward to December 2020, and Sundberg is one of the most popular faces in the Omaha locker room. His English is no problem when he steps in front of the camera for a Zoom press conference after his overtime game winner against Miami.
Despite being a small sample, the Swedish striker appears to be close to a breakout season in four games. No matter what happens on the ice, he wants to make the most of what may be his final season in Omaha.
“I remember one of my teammates and really good friends, Luke Nogard, who always told me before you knew you were going to be a senior, so really take it in and enjoy it,” said Sundberg. “College is a special time in your life when you are always with your teammates and coaches and going to school. So it’s a big family.
“Every year there is a new group of people here that you get to know and see every day, and it feels like family. They are people who can always be relied on, both on and off the rink, and these people will forever be a part of my life. I think we have another great group this season and we can do something special. “