Maybe it comes from the hours he spent watching his scaffold-building father scale the walls of Swedish high rises. Or maybe from the hours he spent watching roulette wheels spin round and round. Whatever the reason, Philadelphia Flyer goaltender Tommy Soderstrom is as cool as an arctic ice pack. "He's the most relaxed goalie I've ever seen," says teammate Kevin Dineen. "Nothing rattles him."
Even sudden death. After one home game last year Dineen spied Soderstrom packing a bag in the locker room. "Where you headed?" asked Dineen.
"I'm going to hop a train to Washington and have a little heart surgery," Soderstrom said with characteristic nonchalance. "No big deal. I'll be back."
Nobody questions Soderstrom's heart—except the Flyers' doctor. Soderstrom suffers from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a genetic abnormality in which an extra electrical impulse makes his ticker tock irregularly. Despite four medical rewirings that wiped out two months of the 1992-93 season, he racked up five shutouts and emerged as the team's No. 1 goalie. Soderstrom, who's 24, shrugs off the potential danger of his ailment. "Doctors say the condition no longer is life-threatening," he says. "My odds are good."
Odds Soderstrom knows. Tenaciously analytical, he has devised his own system for winning at roulette. He doesn't wager on individual numbers, just red or black, odd or even. Soderstrom claims that his system held for more than 70,000 spins at German gaming tables. "I counted," he says.
The Flyers took a flier on Soderstrom when they picked him in the 11th round of the 1990 NHL draft. His play won raves at the '91 Canada Cup and the '92 Winter Olympics. At the '92 world championships he was named outstanding goalie after shutting out Russia and leading Sweden to the gold medal. Still, he languished on Philly's bench until last Dec. 17, when first-stringer Dominic Roussel pulled up lame. Soderstrom, a stand-up goalie who sees the game several moves ahead of the moment, played 18 straight games and was named NHL co-player of week in January. "We tried not to let opponents take too many shots on Tommy," Dineen kids. "We didn't want to get his pulse rate up."
Soderstrom is as ingenuous as he is insouciant. Before Christmas he was observed singing Jingle Bell Rock as he awaited a face-off. During play he may wave to kids or check the stands for potential dates. Flyer captain Mark Recchi says, "Even during a tense point in the game, he might pull you over, give you a wink and point in the direction of a pretty girl."
Soderstrom's heart, no doubt, skips a beat.