WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a frightening sight for the Tampa Bay Lightning as defenseman Victor Hedman lurched slowly toward the home bench, his left leg flamingoed into the air. Injured by an accidental knee-to-knee collision with Flames winger Garnet Hathaway on Jan. 11, Hedman was initially projected to miss three-to-six weeks. The diagnosis was no death rattle for the Atlantic Division leaders—after all, the Lightning have handled much worse in previous seasons—but few players shoulder heavier workloads than Hedman. As he hobbled down the tunnel, bearing no weight and needing assistance, the outlook suddenly looked bleak.
Nineteen days and five games later, he returned.
“Quick healer,” Hedman says. “Swedish blood.”
When doctors delivered his initial recovery timeline, the 27-year-old was “obviously worried.” But between the fortunately timed All-Star break, which Hedman spent working as an equipment manager while Tampa Bay hosted the festivities, and that Scandinavian lineage, he was back logging 25 minutes on Jan. 30 against Winnipeg. “A little bit more than we first thought, but I was very happy,” Hedman says. “Took me a few games to get me back into my flow, but obviously very excited that I got back that early.”
Since then, Hedman seems like his usual self. He had registered 11 points in 13 games this month entering Tuesday while averaging 26:26 per night, a notch above his season average. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association will ultimately decide the Norris Trophy recipient, but a recent poll conducted among NHL.com scribes placed Hedman comfortably ahead of Dallas’s John Klingberg and Nashville’s P.K. Subban with six weeks until the playoffs.
After a recent morning skate, Hedman spoke with SI about possibly winning that prestigious hardware for the first time, following in his father Olle’s footsteps, a lifelong passion for soccer, and more.
SI: Do you have a future as an equipment manager?
VH: I don’t think so. They’re hard-working souls. They’re at the rink early. They leave late. We get back from the road and they’re unpacking our stuff. I have so much respect for those guys and the things they do for us. It’s unbelievably tough work. I know for a fact that you can be high-maintenance, but there’s never a no from them. There’s always a yes. They’ll do whatever it takes for you to be successful on the ice. I was doing it for two days and it was tough. I didn’t really do much. Just a fun time to be around the guys, help them out a little bit because they help us the whole year. That’s a really hard job. My dad was an equipment manager for 23 years.
SI: I didn’t know that. Where?
VH: Back home in Sweden with Modo. He was never with the senior team, but the under-20 and under-18's. I’ve got two older brothers, so he was with them and with me. Hard hours. He’s got his normal job and then he had that. Not a lot of time at home. It’s a tough job. A lot of respect for those guys, and obviously for my dad too. You know first-hand.
SI: How’d your dad react when he found out you were picking up the family business?
VH: He was happy. Don’t touch any skates, he said.
SI: Word is you have an encyclopedic knowledge of European soccer. How’d you develop that?
VH: Well, I followed soccer since I was young. I play a lot of Football Manager. You learn a lot through there. A lot. That’s how it got started. Then obviously a big-time Man U fan, fantasy soccer, everything. That's where I learned.
SI: Do you play with guys here?
VH: No, back home in Sweden with my brother. I’m not doing that good. I had to be on auto draft. I wasn’t able to be on my phone. I wasn’t really happy with my selections.
SI: Well, a good manager would make some moves.
VH: Exactly. I tried my best. There wasn’t too much out there. Then once January hit, I got [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang from the waiver wire. I got him and [Romelu] Lukaku up front, which has been pretty solid. But my midfield is not good enough.
SI: Have you been to Old Trafford?
VH: Yeah, when they won the league, before I came over here. Haven’t really had the time since. They won the trophy when I was there. That was pretty cool. They were already champions when I got there, but it was the last game of the year and they lifted the trophy, did the celebration lap. That was unbelievable. That’s when [Carlos] Tevez and [Javier] Mascherano played in West Ham. They lost the game 1-0, but [Cristiano] Ronaldo was still there, [Nemanja] Vidić, [Rio] Ferdinand, [Wayne] Rooney…
SI: Ever met them?
VH: No, never. Obviously maybe in the future. You never know if I can get back out there, go see their practice facility in Carrington, hook up with Nilsson Lindelöf, who’s an unbelievable player and another Swede on that team.
SI: Do you ever see players do things on the field and think, I should emulate that on the ice?
VH: That’s a good question. It’s a total different sport, obviously. But there are a few tricks you could probably use, the way maybe they look off people. It’s high-speed, high intensity on the ice. You don’t have a lot time to think out there and have to react quickly. It’s kind of the same in soccer. Obviously it’s a bigger field, a little bit longer, you play 45 minutes nonstop and you don’t go full speed all the time like hockey. It’s a little different that way. But you can see the set plays they have, the movement they have, the way they work on stuff. It’s the same in hockey. You have certain moves and rotations. It’s always fun when you see it work.
SI: Is winning the Norris a goal of yours? Is that something you think about?
VH: It’s obviously a goal for any defenseman to win that. You look at the guys who have won in the past, it’s a goal that you have, but I think everyone in this room is focused on one trophy and one trophy only. You won’t get the individual trophies if you’re not on a good team or a good organization. I’m fortunate to be on an unbelievable team that helped me out through my first decade in the league, to help me grow into the player I want to be. Still got stuff to work on and get better at, but obviously winning the Norris would be something that I want to do. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to play my best every night. We’ll see if I reach that goal. But that would obviously be an unbelievable achievement and something I’d be very proud of. We’ll see at the end of the year. But we’re only focused on winning. I put that pressure on myself to be the best every night, try to set that example for everyone else.
SI: Have the demands of being a No. 1 defenseman changed since you entered the league? Do you do things differently now than when you started?
VH: Eh, I don't know. It’s tough. I can only look at me and this team. Coming into this league, learning from guys like Mattias Ohlund, Eric Brewer, Sami Salo, Pavel Kubina, seeing how they work and how hard they work in practice and games, that helped set the standard for me. I put the pressure on myself to be the best I can be every night. There’s going to be games when it’s tough, but I know I’m going to play a lot of minutes, against top players each night. It’s on me to perform out there, lead from the back out, contribute offensively and lead in the D-zone. That’s what I live for. It’s always fun to be challenged against the best players and make them have a tough night.
SI: Is there a tangible difference between 25 and 27 minutes?
VH: No. That’s what I do in the summer, I work out to withstand 25 to 30 minutes every night, have quick recovery on the bench, play with high speed and have a clear head every game. That’s the mindset we have every summer. You have to look at what you eat, what rest you get and really focus on the games. I’ve obviously matured as I’ve gotten older, especially with the food and diet. The rest is very important. Looking at other guys, you learn that. That’s made a huge difference for me. It’s the way I approach every season.
SI: Are there little tricks within games that you’ve developed to help conserve energy on the fly, stuff that adds up in the long run?
VH: Well, it’s tough sometimes. Every game’s different. Especially second periods, you have long changes, you can get caught in the D-zone for a while. It’s all about not trying to go out there and not running after guys when you’re going in deep into a shift. You’ve got to pack it in, stay on the inside, don’t give them too much time and space. It’s tough for me. You want to conserve energy as much as you can, but for me it’s full throttle all the time.
SI: Were you always big?
VH: Yeah, my coordination wasn’t the best when I was young. I’d lose my balance on the ice. I really had to work through that. Once I grew into my body and I started to feel better, I felt my development [accelerate]. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a real good hockey player. Obviously I had a lot of help as well, being from a hockey town. That’s all we live for, is playing hockey. And I played a lot of soccer, which obviously helped too, with the coordination and stamina and quickness. Playing two sports I think really helped me with hockey. I was always a big guy, always the biggest guy in class and on my teams. That was never a problem for me. But growing into my body took a little bit of time. Once I did, I felt really strong on the ice.
SI: Does that mean you broke it down pretty good on the dance floor at your wedding last summer?
VH: Oh, yeah. I’m pretty good at dancing.