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Gophers Hockey: Leon Bristedt making the freshman adjustment to Minnesota

Swedish freshman is making new experiences in North America, adapting slowly but surely to new home

Leon Bristedt (18) taking the ice for the first time.
Leon Bristedt (18) taking the ice for the first time.
Minnesota Athletics

Leon Bristedt's first collegiate goal November 7th was a relief to the University of Minnesota freshman. Coming in a 5-0 win against Notre Dame, the 19 year-old forward broke through in style with a shot that knocked Fighting Irish goaltender Cal Petersen's water bottle off the goal.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "I would say that the first goal is always the hardest and I got the first goal so I have something to build on."

He's not the first player to have that reaction. After all, lighting the lamp for the first time is an annual rite of passage for hundreds of freshmen making the adjustment to the college life both on and off the ice.  Each wants to be successful in their new home wearing their new uniform. Much of October and November ends up seeing achievements like these getting checked off in large numbers, but this one stood out among other first goals.

This time around was also a first for the Gophers. Never before in the 94 seasons of University of Minnesota men's hockey has a goal been scored from a player who called Sweden home. Not until Bristedt.

The Stockholm native and fellow freshmen Robin Höglund (Mölndai) are the first two Swedes to ever play for the Gophers. They're two of twelve playing college hockey in 2014-15. (2% of all players come from Europe, according to College Hockey Inc.) In their new home they are two three on the team not from Minnesota.

Although historically crossing the Red River or St. Croix is a long distance for Minnesota to recruit, the third and fourth Europeans are in good company. The two previous ones - Thomas Vanek (Austria) and Erik Haula (Finland) - are both in the NHL.

Where Bristedt differs is that unlike the others, he also played junior hockey in Europe. In addition to the bigger lights of the college game the freshman is adjusting to the North American style of hockey.

"It's a lot more North-South game coming from European style game it's a lot of criss-cross and a lot of puck possession. Here it's more North-South, you chip it in and chip it out," said Bristedt about the differences. "The adjustment has been harder for me.

"I think I'm getting there and I'm getting better every game."

Styles aside, a universal adjustment for freshmen is scoring at the next level. While the 5'9", 183 lbs is getting a chance to play one of Minnesota's scoring lines, he's not alone. It is common to see a first-year forward with a pedigree for lighting the lamp all of a sudden struggling.

A year ago Bristedt, playing for Linkoping, led the Swedish J20 SuperElit in goals.

"Last season I would consider myself a goal scorer," he said. "If you miss, if you don't get a goal for a couple games you start to get a lack of confidence. But you stick to it. I'm working very hard."

So far the smooth-skating forward has been. Following several close calls throughout his first four games - shots going wide or point blank chances stopped - he was successful in game number five. (Bristedt missed Minnesota's first two games due to playing with a professional player in Sweden - another issue North Americans don't have to deal with.)

In that case, Bristedt is making new experiences in North America, adapting slowly but surely to new home. He also continues to represent his longtime one. Bristedt  isone of several players on Sweden's U-20 World Junior Championships radar after participating in its camp in early August.

There are still unique aspects for Bristedt, and Höglund, coming over to Minnesota and an English-speaking country (although one teammate did jokingly offer to translate, Bristedt speaks English better than most English speakers would a second language). However, the nature of hockey and adjusting college is universal.

So is improvement on the scoresheet.

It took four games for Bristedt to get goal #1. It only took another two games to score his second.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --