Getting to know: Robin Bergman
Born in the hockey hotbed of Sweden, it might come as a surprise to some that Genting Casino Coventry Blaze's latest recruit chose to leave his homeland at an early age to pursue a blossoming hockey career in North America.
Robin Bergman spent just two years in the Hammarby junior system before making a move to the United States Hockey League (USHL) where the Stockholm native would ice for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.
"I had a friend from Sweden that lived in the US at the time and I went to visit him and we played in a showcase there mostly for fun actually and there were scouts from the USHL there watching," explained Bergman. "I had a really good showcase and the coach from Cedar Rapids invited me to their try-out camp later that summer. I figured it would be a fun experience and so just went for it. I never expected it to last for three years but I'm very happy that it did. It is definitely one of the best experiences I've had in my life!"
Bergman was nominated a USHL All-Star in his first season, earning the attention of the prestigious Notre Dame University of the NCAA where the following year he was to play for just 20 games, scoring once and adding six assists before returning to the Iowa based, Cedar Rapids.
“I guess I was young and didn't think too far ahead at that time,” said Bergman. “I had a hard time adjusting to everything in college and hockey wasn't really going as well as I wanted. But, I know now looking back that it's like that for most freshman. At that age all I wanted to do was play pro-hockey and that was probably the main reason that I left Notre Dame. Looking back at it today I wish I had more patience and just stuck it out and got the great education that college gives you, both hockey and school wise. Leaving has led to a lot of great things as well though and I've been able to experience and play in a bunch of different places. I've met some great people along the way and that's not something I would trade for anything either.”
Bergman, who will combine hockey with study at Coventry University this coming season was to play a total of 148 games for the Roughriders scoring 59 goals, 55 assists for 114 points but how would his experience of differed had he stayed home?
"Junior hockey is a whole different story in North America compared to back home. Hockey wise Sweden is a great country at developing young players and it's a very popular sport but at the junior level the interest is very different between the US and Sweden. Back in Sweden you would mostly play in front of your family and friends at that age, while in the US there were always tons of fans in the stands. The newspapers covered all the games, fans around town would know who you were and so on and that was a cool thing to be a part of at that age, when you're not used to it coming from Sweden."
Bergman turned professional in 2009, heading back to Europe with Vaasan Sport of the Mestis (Finland's second-tier). 20 goals and 9 assists in 47 games, the Swede earned himself a contract in the Finish Elite League with Turun Palloseura (TPS) for the 2010/11 season. After 14 appearances, via a short stop in Tuto, Bergman found his way back to Vaasan Sport on loan where he was to score 4 goals and 4 assists, including the game-winning goal in overtime to seal the Mestis Championship.
"It was an unbelievable feeling to score that goal," smiled Robin. "It was definitely a cool moment in my career to cap off a very fun run that we had in the end with Sport. Winning a championship is always something special and we were able to peak at the right time in the playoffs. Vaasa is a hockey crazy town and everyone was very involved in the playoffs which made it great for us players and I will always have great memories from that time. "
The following summer, Bergman left Finland for Denmark signing with AaB Aalborg where he was able to really show his offence prowess scoring 27 goals, 22 assists for 49 points in 52 games. He then made the short move to Frederikshavn White Hawks where he has played for three of the past four seasons, split only by a year in Norway with Lillehammer (15+29 =44 in 54).
Such was Bergman's popularity in the fishing town of Frederikshavn, it was the fans and a group of generous sponsors who were to raise the funds in order to bring back the sharp-shooter to the club for the past season after his year in Norway.
"That is something that I will always be very appreciative and thankful for," said Robin. "The fans and the sponsors in Frederikshavn are very passionate and they support the team in any way they can. Frederikshavn has been a great place for me to play and I only have good things to say about the town and the organisation. They run everything professionally and they really take good care of their players and make sure they are comfortable which is something I always appreciated while playing there."
Over a three year period for the White Hawks, Bergman posted an impressive 62 goals, 76 assists for 138 points in 169 games, his most recent being the most prolific (25+27 = 52 in 56 games).
"I'm not exactly sure why last season went so well personally," reflected the 27-year-old. "I feel like I have got more and more consistent over the last 3-4 years and physically I feel great as well and I guess that just comes with more experience. I've always felt like I've had the tools to be a productive player and I guess last season I was able to put everything together on a consistent basis and I just felt very comfortable with the way I was playing. I have to give my line-mates some of the credit as well, we had great chemistry and played really well together the whole season."
Joining Blaze in the prime of his career, the left shot winger is looking forward to building on "his best season so far" as he embarks on his first season in the Elite League.
"I believe I'm playing my best hockey right now and I hope to bring that confidence to Coventry. I always want to score a lot of goals and help the team offensively. I believe my skating ability and hockey sense would be some of my main strengths and I try to use them as much as I can to create chances for myself and the guys I play with. Hopefully I can get a pretty big role and help the team get a lot of wins."
As is the case for most imports coming to play in the UK for the first time, one of the first things Robin was made aware of on signing for Coventry was the importance that the Elite League places on winning the regular season championship, something unfamiliar to a player who has spent his career building up to extended playoff campaigns to determine a champion to end the season.
"I've been told it's a little different and I'm sure it's going to take me a few games to get used to the different type of hockey and everything but hopefully I can adjust quickly so I can help the team in the best way possible," said Bergman. "With the regular season being the most important title you have to be very consistent night-in and night-out as a team and I hope as a group we can really put together a good run and be at the top when it comes down to it in the end."
When Bergman pulls on the Blaze jersey for the first time against the Nottingham Panthers for a pre-season encounter on Wednesday 24th August he'll likely still be getting used to his new surroundings, teammates and the Skydome ice but one thing will be familiar - his number 88.
"My first year pro I actually wanted a different number but it was taken and I had 88 written down as my second choice because of my birth year and it has just stuck with me since then. I guess I'm too superstitious to change it now."
We thank Robin for his time and look forward to welcoming him to Coventry in August.
Article: Craig Summerton (@block15blaze)