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'NIK' OF TIME

01/14/2003 10:34 AM - The Red Wings hope lightning has struck twice with the arrival of defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

Story and photos by Mark Newman

Kronwall has benefited from his pairing with Michigan State University product Jason Woolley, a veteran defenseman who was traded to Detroit early last season after several years in Buffalo.

“He's doing a real nice job,” Woolley says of his new partner. “He's very skilled. He moves the puck well and he's smart -- this team is perfect for him. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, which is awesome for a young kid.”

This was supposed to be a learning year for Kronwall, who was making the jump overseas and attempting to make the transition to North American hockey in one fell swoop. “The more you're out there, the more you learn,” he says.

An astute student, Kronwall makes it a point to pay attention to the action even when he's not on the ice. “I mostly try to watch the other players like (Travis) Richards and (Anders) Myrvold,” he says. “You can learn a lot from them, too.”

Myrvold was often at Kronwall's side in Grand Rapids, helping the young defenseman to adjust not only to professional hockey but to North America, which is definitely different from life in Sweden. “Andy's helped me with pretty much everything,” Kronwall says, “from setting up the phone to the electricity.”

Being fluent in English has helped the transition, but Kronwall admits that he misses some things about home. It was especially difficult during the Christmas holidays — not surprising for a guy by the name of Niklas.

He missed being at the traditional Christmas table with his family, dining on favorite foods, especially Swedish meatballs and pastas. He laughs when asked about surstromming, which is fermented Baltic herring with a rather unique smell.

“It's not really my favorite. Actually, it's awful. You can smell it in the air,” he says, recalling an incident where school authorities sent everyone home because someone had placed surstromming in the ventilation system.

For himself, Kronwall is pleased that he hasn't stunk up the NHL in his first campaign. “I feel pretty good,” he says. “I think I was more nervous during the exhibition games than during the regular season.”

Early reviews have been nothing but positive. He's impressed another defenseman in Detroit with whom he shares a certain bond.

“He was the odd man out at the beginning of the year,” Lidstrom said after a recent Red Wings game, “but he's shown he can play in this league.”

Kronwall is certainly capable of making a physical impact on a game. Although he's average in size (6-foot-1, 180 lbs.), he doesn't back down from challenging bigger players. If he senses an opportunity for an open-ice hit, he'll take it.

“It's not like I skate around looking for it, but when the opportunity comes, I want to step up,” he says. “It's always in the back of my mind and it's part of the game. You give and you take. That's the way it should be.”

Although impressive during his first dozen games in the NHL, Kronwall knows there is plenty of room for improvement.

“I've learned more and more about the different defensive styles,” he says. “I've developed a lot in the last couple of years, but I still need to learn a lot.”

Judging from his early success with the Wings, Kronwall's education process is more likely to continue in Detroit than Grand Rapids.



CUTLINES:


  • Kronwall was a first-round pick of the Red Wings in the 2000 Entry Draft.

  • Kronwall's hockey idol as a youth was, not surprisingly, Nick Lidstrom.



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