By Michael McHugh
Aeros Junior Reporter
As the season is coming to an end, I look back and realize how much I have enjoyed myself, how grateful I am for the friendships I have made, and the talented players I have had the privilege to interview.
There are a lot of great guys on this team. I wish I could have had longer to write a feature on each and every one of them. For those who took the time for me, I want to say thank you.
The world of professional sports is full of athletes who think they are doing you a favor just showing up. And talking to a kid? Well, I have had my share of Not now.
Tom Verducci, senior sports writer for Sports Illustrated told me once that many people will say no to you along the way, but its up to you to keep going and follow your dreams. Covering hockey has been a dream, and I can honestly say that not one Aero ever refused me or shook me off. So thanks guys, youve made this kid sports writer believe in what I am doing and I put you all at the top of my list as the nicest guys in professional sports.
I also want to thank Aeros director of communications Ryan Stanzel for all his help, keeping me on track and answering all my crazy questions when I had them. Many a night he was e-mailing me info I needed for a story or cross checking my facts.
The entire Aeros organization has been great and I cant wait until next season already! That is, after the Aeros win the Calder Cup again this year!
So with all my Thank Yous made, and only a short time left to get all my stories in before the guys take off, I would like to share my feature on Rickard Wallin. I will get some others up during the off season, so stay tuned!
Mr. Nice Guy
By Michael McHugh
Aeros Junior Reporter
Rickard Wallin is genuinely one of the nicest people Ive ever been around. No matter what, he always made time for me. It didnt matter that he was tired, or had a rough day, or lost a game, or was anxious to get home. Instead, he has been kind, gracious and willing to stop and talk, and always has a smile on his face or a hello in his voice.
A man who is admired and respected by his teammates, he has also become a favorite with the Aeros fans at Toyota Center. His jersey and number are seen on the backs of fans, signs are made for him, and cheers of Go Wally are heard from the crowd.
We just love to watch him play, said Katy Miller, who claims to be the biggest Wallin fan there is. He is one of the reasons I love to come here. He is a joy to watch and seems like a really great guy.
After a game, it is not unusual to see him outside signing autographs, taking his time, and chatting with the fans. His fans have taken a liking to the 6-foot-2-inch Swede, making him one of the most popular players on the team.
While it might be easy to let it all go to his head, he takes it all in stride. Its fun that fans like what you do, he said. Fans are starting to get to know us a little bit, and I think that helps.
At last look, his jersey for the Aeros Charities Auction was in the middle of a bidding war, with a current high bid of $575. You can expect that number to go up dramatically before the first period ends this Friday. Some lucky fan will walk away with his game worn jersey, for a price, of course, but for a good cause.
This year he began his fifth pro/third Aeros season, and has proven he belongs. In 77 games played, he has 12 goals, 30 assists and 42 points.
Wallin, a native of Karlstad, Sweden, began skating at the age of three, and started playing on a team when he was seven.
Sports were something he enjoyed on and off the ice. Soccer was a favorite, and it was his first big sport that he played all the time. He also played some tennis, and tried lots of different sports but fell in love with hockey because it was the most fun. He liked the fact that it is a team sport and playing as a team to win.
He excelled in the Swedish Elite League before coming to the AHL. He spent much of the 02-03 season with the Aeros and was a member of the Aeros Calder Cup winning team, scoring the game winning goal against Hamilton. He attributes that as his most exciting hockey moment he has had. He spent some time with the Wild during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. This season, with the NHL work stoppage, Wallin made the choice to come back to Houston and the AHL.
Rickard Wallin really showed us a lot by coming over here this year, said Aeros general manager Tom Lynn. Rickard has a scoring record for goal scoring in the playoffs in Sweden. He played for a great team there and hes very wanted there, but he wanted to come back here and show that he could play in the NHL. He came back here to play this year even though he had a great offer in Sweden, so he showed how much commitment he has.
Like most guys his age, Wallin enjoys playing sports, watching TV, going to the movies and hanging out with friends. He enjoys eating at Maggianos, especially the Chicken Piccata and Fettucine Alfredo.
On game days, he has a daily routine he goes through. It starts with the morning skate, a pre-game meal and then a nap before heading to Toyota Center. He likes to warm up playing a little soccer and then begins to get into his game mode. As far as rituals or superstitions go, he laughs and says he has too many to talk about or we would be there all night.
Teammate Brent Burns considers Wallin an excellent hockey player, with great hands, the ability to read the play before it happens and great hockey smarts. He also jokingly said that even though Wallin is laid back and quiet, if something were done to your shoelaces, hes the kind of guy who would do it.
With the Aeros tied for third place, Wallin, like all the guys, are gearing up for the playoffs.
During the off season, he plans to go back to Sweden to see his family and friends and work on getting a little stronger and faster. He will also be focused on trying to secure a spot on next years Wild roster. That is, if there is an NHL. Whenever the NHL starts, Im hoping that I can be in competition for a spot there, said Wallin. I know that I can play. Its not an option to be as good as somebody else, you have to be better, and thats something I have to show when I get there, if I get there.
Coach Todd McLellan is confident he will. Wally has been a very important player for us, he said. Hes skilled, he sees the ice very well and is a very smart player.
For now, he is not going to focus on the lockout or his contract status. Im just trying to finish up the season and do the best I can and worry about the other stuff in the summer and not think about it now, he said.
He remembers all too well that great feeling of winning a Calder Cup, and right now, theres one out there to he had.
Just For Fun:
Q: Ill never forget where I was when
A: The World Trade Center bombing occurred. I was back home in Sweden and on a bus to a game and we listened to it on the radio. That is something I will never forget.
Q: How nervous were you in your first NHL game?
A: I was real nervous. Not so much right before the game, but the whole day leading up to the game and the morning skate was pretty nerve racking.
Q: Name one thing you dont travel without
A: My computer. It helps me stay connected with my family and friends a little bit and see whats going on in the world.
Q: What advice do you have for kids who want to be a hockey player?
A: I think when youre a kid, just play as many sports as you can, and whatever is most fun, stick with that. Theres not supposed to be any pressure when youre a kid. Just play for fun. If you really think its fun, youll be a good player.