Viktor Stalberg has put everyone on notice that he has arrived and in doing so, has helped to guide the University of Vermont Catamounts to their first ever Frozen Four appearance this year. The All-Hockey East First Team selection and Hobey Baker top ten finalist, played in 38 games this season, posting 45 points (24 goals, 21 assists). His 24 goals currently rank fourth in the nation.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Stalberg after practice on Wednesday at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.
HF: Making it here to Washington DC for the Frozen Four has to feel pretty good.
VS: Yeah, it’s a tremendous feeling. We’re really excited about that.
HF: With all of the accolades that you’ve earned and the season that you’ve been having, what has it been like to suddenly have this spotlight being put on you?
VS: It’s a little different. My first year here, Torrey Mitchell took a lot of the spotlight and a lot of guys here last year were known on the ice too, but it’s been definitely fun. You have to enjoy the moment, realize that you’ve done something good this year and have fun with it.
HF: How does a kid from Sweden end up at Vermont?
VS: You know, I get that question a lot (laughs). I was always pretty good in school and I just kind of didn’t really want to bet everything all on one card, I guess. School is a pretty good second chance if hockey doesn’t work out, but obviously my goal in life is to play hockey at the professional.
HF: Did you ever play for the SEL?
VS: No. I played for a junior team in Frolunda. The SEL is their senior team. About half-way through my junior year (with Frolunda), I got the chance to go up there and sign for the next year, but my mind had always been set on college, so I decided to not take that chance, sat out and didn’t play.
HF: So you actually got offers from the SEL then?
VS: Yes, but nothing was in writing. But the way things were going; yeah I did have the chance but decided to stay (in junior).
HF: In addition to Vermont, did other NCAA schools also recruit you?
VS: Yes, there were a couple of other schools. Vermont was one of the first schools that recruited me. When I decided to turn down going pro back home, I think a lot of NHL scouts figured out that this kid was playing college hockey, so that obviously opened the door for other schools. I just felt that the whole timing with coming to Vermont was there from the start and that they were very much interested in me even well before all of this media attention and stuff happened. So that was a big thing for me. I definitely had a couple of schools to chose from.
HF: You’re a prospect of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so I would imagine that they have been keeping tabs on you this year, especially with the season that you’re having.
VS: Yes, they are. There’s no question about that. I keep in contact with them. They have had their player development coaches come out to see me play quite a few times too. They tell me that there are things that they want me to improve to help my game and try to help me with that as well.
HF: Has it been hard to put out of your mind the fact that they may try to get you to come out early?
VS: Well, it’s a good problem to have, and it’s something that you dream about as a little kid, but at the same time, I’m here at the Frozen Four and try to put that aside for right now. I feel that I owe that to everyone on my team. You work with these guys all year long and the coaches have been really great to me, so I’m focused on being here with my team right now. When I get back next week, hopefully as a national champion, I’ll make that decision.
HF: Were you at the Leafs’ prospect camp last summer?
VS: Yes, I’ve actually been there the past three years. It’s a good time of the year and I like the city. They’re a tremendous organization too. I know that they just signed (Tyler) Bozak and (Christian) Hanson, and I think they’re looking at possibly signing a couple of other younger players too, so hopefully there’s a future for them.
HF: One of the other players that they seem very interested in is actually a guy you’ll be playing against in the semi-final game on Thursday night (Matt Gilroy).
VS: Yeah (laughs).
HF: Getting back to what you’re doing at Vermont this year, you eluded to having to sort of fill Torrey Mitchell’s shoes as far as being the team’s go-to guy. How has that changed or impacted your role on the team?
VS: Well there’s no question about that. I think you also have to kind of grow with that responsibility too. When I came here in my freshman year, I had the chance to play and I played with Torrey for the most part of that season. So it was great for me to learn from him because he’s obviously a tremendous player. I wasn’t the go-to guy at that time, so they were always looking to him to make the plays or lead the team. But it’s fun to be that guy right now and I think I’m doing a pretty good job at that. Plus, we have our seniors too.
HF: How have you as a player and your game grown and developed that has not only allowed you to be able to accept the role of the go-to guy, but to also thrive in it as well?
VS: I think it’s just been about my confidence. That’s been the biggest thing for me this year. I came back to Vermont earlier to be able to work out and really show the team that I wanted to be in that position. So I had a chance to be with a good core of guys to work out with. We’d all get up at 7:30 in the morning and work out for a couple of hours and whatever we did, we tried to do as a group. That has brought us closer together. But I think in general, my confidence is stronger and a lot better. I’m a little more poised with the puck out there and try to make plays, instead trying to get the other guys to make the plays.
HF: What have been perhaps one or two areas of your game that you personally feel that you’ve grown the most in?
VS: I’d say my strength. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and more balanced. I think I’m also taking a lot more shots this year than I have in the past too. I think that I have a lot more confidence in shooting from bad angles and take those opportunities. So it’s kind of worked out for me. If you watch the NHL, that’s kind of like how they score in the NHL. So I try to imitate that, I guess.
HF: What are your thoughts about facing Boston University on Thursday?
VS: They’re a hard team to play against, no question. They’re the No. 1 team in the country and they have some great players like (Matt) Gilroy and Colin Wilson. At the same time, we know that we can play against them. We’ve had some pretty good games against them over the last couple of years. If we can just come out there, work hard and kind of put them on their heels a little bit, then I think we have a real good chance of winning the game.
HF: Does the fact that they’ll be gunning for you make it even better to play against them?
VS: Yes, definitely. We’re ready to go here and we’ve been looking forward to this game for the last couple of weeks, so it should be exciting.