Oscar Dansk’s journey in life has taken him from Sweden to the U.S., back to Sweden, and now finds him holding down the fort in between the pipes in Erie, PA. And the Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect is hoping that his next journey will be with his Otters’ teammates deep into the OHL playoffs.
“I think we’ve been doing really well. I think we’ve surprised ourselves a little bit,” Dansk said. “We want to keep the momentum going.”
Dansk is certainly doing his part. He currently sports a 2.64 goals-against average and has a sterling 10-3-1-0 record. The Swedish-born netminder has been a huge part of the Erie Otters’ resurgence this season, where the club currently finds itself tied with the Guelph Storm for the OHL’s top spot with a 20-4-1-0 record.
Although there have been a few trades, Dansk said the biggest change from last season isn’t physical, it’s mental.
“From my first year last year to now, there hasn’t been too much of a change in the team’s players, and we have Coach Kris [Knoblauch] back from last year,” he said. “The difference is that we came into the season with a whole new mentality.”
“The coaches have been great with goal-setting this year,” he said. “And with Coach [Craig] Hartsburg coming in to help with D, he’s brought a great level of skill to the team and it’s helped us reach our goals.”
For Dansk, his second year in the OHL has benefited from the lessons he learned during last year’s transition. Last year, in 41 games, Dansk compiled an 11-23-6 record behind a 4.11 goals-against average.
“Last year, I learned how the league is — the schedule is much different than what’s in Sweden — and I got to learn how the game is played, generally,” he said. “Last year it was more games than I was used to — and playing two years over in Sweden, I really didn’t get in too many games.”
Dansk played for two seasons with Brynas IF Galve. But Erie isn’t his first North American hockey experience — prior to the Otters, Dansk played in the noted Shattuck-St. Mary’s program out of Minnesota.
“Shattuck-St. Mary’s was a great program, but I had an opportunity to play in Sweden and it was kind of time to come home,” he said. “I was born in Sweden, but honestly my family and I spent a lot of time in Canada and the U.S., playing in tournaments.”
Talking to Dansk, you’d never know he wasn’t a native-born North American. He speaks without a hint of an accent. The language hasn’t been a barrier, but the lifestyle took some time getting used to.
“It was a bit of a change coming back over here,” he said. “Living the hockey lifestyle here is a little different, but I had some experience and was used to it having played in Minnesota for a couple of years.
“I did practice quite a bit with the elite league team there,” Dansk said. “Now, I’m playing with guys my own age.”
Dansk was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft, 31st overall. The experience left him with a clear idea of what he needs to do to make the jump to the next level — improve everything.
“I need to improve my overall technique in everything — every part of my game has to improve to be part of the NHL,” he said. “I think, obviously, if we were to make it to the playoffs, it would be a huge experience for my future career. Like I said, the schedule here is a bit different so getting into a long playoff run will be a huge benefit to me.”
Over the summer, he had a chance to participate in the Blue Jackets’ development camp and training camp. He said the quality of play was eye-opening — “It’s just better. In every way the quality is better” — but far from scaring him off, it helped spark the fires of a passion that continues to burn.
“I got to jump into the third period of a game against the [Pittsburgh] Penguins which was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was surreal.
“It brought that feeling that I just wanted to do this every day for the rest of my life.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard