With his Erie Otters missing out on the Ontario League playoffs, Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk decided to engage in a very North American pursuit: the road trip.
Though he played for Brynas last season, Dansk is also an alumnus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, so he and Erie teammate Travis Wood (who hails from the state) headed to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to see friends with a brief stopover in Chicago.
The trek came with all the pain and glory that comes with hitting the open highway.
“I just got my driver’s license a few months ago,” Dansk said. “There are a lot of people out there (driving) who don’t have a lot of brain cells…but maybe I’m the one without many brain cells.”
Fortunately, that’s never been a problem around the rink, where the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect smartly leverages his size to make an impact on an Erie team that often needed a hero.
“He’s very mature, he’s not a young 19-year-old,” said Jackets development coach Chris Clark. “He’s doing the right things and he knows what it takes to be successful.”
Taken with the first pick of the second round in the 2012 NHL draft, Dansk was also a hot commodity in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. Early speculation had him ticketed for the London Knights, but the Otters swooped in with the third pick overall and landed their starting netminder to go along with incoming phenom Connor McDavid up front.
The Otters still got shelled on a regular basis and to look at their starter’s 4.11 goals-against average and .888 save percentage alone you wouldn’t assume Dansk had a good rookie campaign, but the young Swede was top-15 in the OHL in saves while facing almost 37 shots per night.
“When they won games,” Clark said, “a lot of times it was because he made big saves.”
A good-sized goaltender who uses positional smarts and doesn’t overreact to the play, Dansk also won’t give up on a play.
“I compete,” he said. “That’s probably my best quality. I still want to improve my overall game because at the higher levels you have to be faster, stronger and have better conditioning.”
Dansk also got to travel to Russia for the World Junior Championship, where he was the third-stringer for Sweden’s silver-medal entry. “I had never been to Russia before,” he said. “I wanted to play, but I look at it as a learning experience and motivation for next year.”
The North American players had fun with the culinary culture shock in Ufa and Dansk agreed it took some getting used to.
“We made a deal with the hotel we stayed at,” he said. “We just kept eating the same thing for two weeks – chicken and pasta.”
With the tournament coming to Sweden next season, Dansk is in line to get starting minutes when the annual junior classic hits Malmo, in the southern part of the country.
Getting a young netminder who will be tested by the best players of his age group is also a boon for the team that drafted him and it’s no coincidence the two goalies who went in the first round last year, Andrey Vasilevskiy and Malcolm Subban, both played for their countries at the world juniors in Ufa.
“It’s great for any player to play internationally,” Clark said. “It would be a good challenge for Oscar to deal with the pressure in front of his home country.”
In the meantime, Dansk will head back to Erie where he and McDavid will be joined by the second overall pick in the OHL draft (Dylan Strome, brother of New York Islanders pick Ryan Strome, is a good bet).
“The future is looking pretty good,” Dansk said. “It’s a whole new season and we have to start from scratch.”
Then it’s back to road trips by bus in the fall – where someone else can do the driving.