At the 2011 IIHF U18 tournament in Dresden and Crimmitschau, Germany, more than a few people in the hockey community found themselves raising their eyebrows with respect to a pair of brothers suiting up for Team Norway.
The half-American Sobergs (written Søberg in Norwegian and Söberg in Swedish) proved to be the team’s most fascinating players and goalie Steffen Soberg’s performance, often standing on his head to keep his country competitive throughout the tournament, earned him the honor of being selected 117th overall by the Washington Capitals in the following summer’s NHL Draft.
But special note had to be made of the team’s first line right winger Markus Soberg, who not only played with reckless abandon and the will to skate his way through opposition defenses, regardless of what high profile players were manning them, but was doing so as a 15-year-old. As could be expected, his name was soon accommodated with an asterisk in dotting the notebooks of scouts throughout the community.
It was no later than at this tournament that the excitement and expectations had risen considerably for a young man whose country hasn’t been in the business of producing many NHL players over the years. Since then, Markus has spent two seasons in Sweden plying his trade and improving in leaps and bounds with the weight of the hockey hopes of a nation on his shoulders, going on to represent his country at two more U18 tournaments and appearances at another two U20 tournaments.
The speedster featuring a right-handed shot has now reached his draft year and is one of three Norwegians popping up in just about every list of draft-eligible Europeans you’ll find. Whether his dream of seeing all his hard work culminate in hearing his name called in New Jersey on June 30th comes true will first be determined in roughly two weeks’ time, but in anticipation of this possibility, Hockey’s Future took the opportunity to catch up with Markus for this one-on-one chat.
Hockey’s Future: The last time Hockey’s Future had a chance to talk with you was shortly before your 16th birthday. Now you’re 18 and looking forward to a summer that could see you get drafted. What’s happened in your young career since the spring of 2011?
Markus Soberg: Well I decided to leave home and move to Sweden to become a better hockey player and to mature on and off the ice. This has happened. I’m really happy with the way I’ve developed as a player and as a person. And I’m really excited about the future.
HF: Your older brother Steffen was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft and was just named the GET Ligaen’s Player of the Year. Being Norway’s top league, that’s the equivalent of the MVP trophy for most North American leagues. How’s your relationship with your brother nowadays and how often do you speak about things such as contracts, career goals, contact with scouts or in his case, with the Washington Capitals?
MS: Yep, that award is the pretty much the same thing as being named the league’s MVP. I have a pretty good relationship with my brother. We hang out a lot when I have the chance to come home and we speak over the phone every now and again. Every time a scout calls me and wants to have a meeting with me, I always send him a text and let him know about it. And when the Caps call him or something, he usually lets me know about it. We both want the best for each other, so we’re always really honest with each other about how things really are, how we feel about them, and what we interpret certain things to mean. We don’t really care what others may be thinking or writing about us. We go about our business and enjoy the ride.
HF: You’ve represented your country at the U18 level for three years in a row and have also played two times for the U20 team. This past spring you were the D1A U18 tournament’s top scorer with eight goals and five assists in five games. However, Norway lost the all-important final game to Denmark, your archrival, preventing Norway from gaining promotion. What was your take on the tournament in Italy and how hard was it for the program to suffer that loss to Denmark?
MS: Yeah that’s right. I’ve had 3 great years with the U18 team and two great learning experiences with the U20. The tournament this past season in Italy was fun and a good experience for me in leading the team both on and off the ice. I was able – and expected – to lead by example. But in the end we lost the last and the most important game against Denmark. It just doesn’t really matter how many points I put up, when all is said and done, it is all about winning and we didn’t do it. I was very disappointed.
HF: Despite this disappointment, your time with the U18 team is over and now you’ve got no less than two more U20 tournaments to look forward to. You were part of the team that gained promotion back into the world’s elite and you’ll be in Malmö, Sweden to face a group that includes neighbors Sweden and Finland as well as powerhouse Russia and an ever-improving Switzerland. How are you and the Norwegian program preparing for this huge challenge?
MS: The upcoming U20 is something that I am really, really looking forward to. It’s going to be awesome facing the best international teams. The Norwegian program is on high octane in preparing for this tournament. The extended team will be having a number of camps over the summer and we’ll be playing in a few small tournaments to get the team together and work on ourselves as a team.
HF: At the age of 16, you decided to do something that many serious Norwegian and Danish hockey players of note do: You went to Sweden to play junior hockey. How much of a transition was that for you your first season playing in Gothenburg? What kind of challenges did you face in adjusting to a different country and a higher level of play after having been one of the most talented players in your own country?
MS: The hockey itself wasn’t too much of an adjustment, to be honest. Actually, the transition was more about learning the small details that separate the good players and the best players and kind of working on those details every day. I was just trying to play my game wherever and whenever I’d play and bring a 100% work ethic with me to the rink, day in and day out. It was tough to adjust to life outside of the rink, living alone in an apartment in Sweden. It’s an automatic adjustment when you have to do the laundry, clean the house and make dinner every day, but after a while I got into a routine and now I don’t have any problems at all. It’s just become a normal part of everyday life.
HF: Although you just turned 18 about a month ago, you spent the majority of this past season playing for Frolunda’s U20 team in the SuperElit, scoring 15 goals and 32 points in a total of 42 games. Not shabby for a 17-year-old. You added another seven goals and 12 points in nine games for the U18 squad. What was the big difference for you between this and last season?
MS: I felt more comfortable with everything and it was easier playing my game. Honestly, I had a slow start, but in October I started to play better and better and after Christmas I played really well, so overall I am pretty happy with my season for sure.
HF: What do you feel you’ve improved on or learned the most during your time in Gothenburg?
MS: Every season I try to work on the things that I am somewhat good at and have some natural tendencies with, so I’ve always worked hard on my skating. I want to be the fastest guy out there. As mentioned earlier, we work on and talk about the small details all the time. It’s those little things that make a difference and that’s something that I feel I’ve truly gotten better at and take a lot of pride in improving.
HF: What would say have been your biggest strengths and weaknesses to this point in time? Better yet, what do you feel you absolutely have to work on in order to become a successful pro player, and maybe one day, an NHL player?
MS: My biggest strength is definitely my skating. I feel confident in saying that I can be a very fast skater and can be very explosive. I also feel I have a very good shot, as well, and it’s something I’ve got to find ways to incorporate into my game more often. I need to work on gaining more muscle and some more weight, but it is something that’ll be continually worked on and I think that it will come sooner or later, so I’m not all that worried about that actually.
HF: What is on tap for you next season? What kind of feedback have you gotten from the Frolunda organization with respect to your progress and what they would have planned for you if you were to stay there?
MS: Right now, my current intention is to stay in Sweden. I love playing for the Frolunda Indians and I love the city of Gothenburg. The club hasn’t said very much about the near future to this point other than that they do see me playing in the elite league at some juncture should I continue to play at my best every night and keep developing at the rate I have the past two seasons. But truth be told, if an NHL team would pick me this summer at the draft and would advise me to go over to North America as soon as next season, I would definitely be open to what they feel is best for me and my development. There’s no doubt about it, playing in North America has always been my dream and I have nothing against moving to Canada to continue to develop if, as a draftee, that is what it takes and I’m asked or advised to do so.
HF: Any idea where you are going to be for the NHL Draft weekend and how you’re going to spend it?
MS: I don’t know yet. Some of the teams I’ve been in contact with would like me to come over and be at the draft, but I’m just not sure yet. If I ultimately am not in New Jersey for the draft weekend, I’ll definitely be at home and glued to my computer following the draft events.
HF: Lastly, people in Norway and around Scandinavia have been talking about you for a few years now. Some feel you may end up being the best player Norway has ever produced, which are some heavy expectations for any young man to live up to. How do you deal with the pressure that things like this can create?
MS: I don’t mind any pressure at all. It actually just makes the game, and everything about it, more fun for me. Having to produce every night, the biggest pressure I feel comes from the expectations I have of myself. I always want to get better. And of course I want to be the best Norwegian who has ever played. That’s just something I have to use as motivation in order to continue getting better at turn. Nonetheless, I don’t see myself as getting recognized for playing a more Norwegian style of hockey. After my time and schooling in Sweden, I simply have to say that I have come to play more like they do in Sweden where there’s a great deal of emphasis placed on high speed and shooting the puck. These are things I truly love doing as a player.
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