Coming into the 2001-02 season, defenseman Henrik Tallinder was touted as being one of the Buffalo Sabres’ better prospects. He had just finished a championship season with TPS Turku in Finland’s top league, an accomplishment that only added to his reputation, and which served to add to the anticipation of his arrival in North America.
Henrik’s debut was somewhat delayed due to a knee injury suffered early in Buffalo’s training camp, but he has not disappointed since joining the Rochester Americans’ roster. The smiling Swede seems to have adapted quickly to the style of play favored on these shores, to the point where he has logged as much as 25+ minutes a game. Tallinder does, indeed, look like a very promising prospect.
I caught up with Henrik following a recent practice, where we briefly discussed his career and his approach to the game. The following is a transcript of that conversation, with "HF" designating my questions and "HT" being Henrik’s answers.
HF: Last year, you played in Turku, Finland. What differences have you noticed between playing in Turku, and playing in the AHL?
HT: It’s a pretty big difference. Over here, it’s more hitting, and the play goes more, like- the transition game is much more forwards-and-backwards, and offense and defense is much faster than it is back home. Back home, it’s more sideways-to-sideways instead of up-and-down, if you know what I mean.
HF: You guys won the championship last year. That must have been exciting for you.
HT: Yeah, it was. I’ve never won anything before, so it was the first time I had won something really big. It’s really big back in Finland. Finland is like Canada- hockey is a religion over there, so it was really big there.
HF: Did you play with any former NHL players on that team?
HT: Not on that team. I played against a couple other players who played in the NHL, or at least a couple games in the NHL. I can’t remember the names right now.
HF: So, you’ve come over here to Rochester. What are your impressions of playing in the AHL? Have you enjoyed your time here, or has it been more of a learning experience?
HT: Yeah, I just try to do my best, and play as well as I can. It’s a lot more fun, I think, to play over here because things happen much faster here. I think it’s fun here to watch, too. I think it’s a good experience for me, and I think I’ve learned very much here in the American Hockey League. We’ll see, maybe I’ll be up in the NHL, who knows.
HF: Have you been able to adapt from the larger ice surfaces over in Finland, to the smaller ice surfaces here?
HT: Yeah. Usually it’s bigger ice, but actually, in Finland you can choose the size of the rink, so there was a couple teams that had NHL-sized rinks.
HF: So they didn’t have a standard size over there?
HT: No. It’s pretty fun over there, because it’s different every game. Sometimes you play on big ice; sometimes you play on small ice, so it’s a huge difference.
HF: I saw a Rochester game a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed like you were out there for half the game. Do you enjoy getting that much work? I imagine you would, being a young guy and all…
HT: Yeah, of course, who doesn’t like to play a lot? Everybody likes to play a lot. I’m just enjoying myself. I think I play better if I play more minutes.
HF: How would you characterize your game- would you say you’re more of a defensive defenseman, or do you have an offensive side to your game?
HT: Actually, I’m just trying to be all-around. I can play both offense and defense, too, I think. I’m a pretty good two-way player, I would say. But, I can’t categorize myself in one category, because I think I can do a bit of everything…
HF: More of a well-rounded player, then?
HT: Yeah. In Europe, you have to be all-around to play in the big leagues over there. You have to be good offensively and defensively because it’s bigger ice. So, you have to be good.
HF: Have the Sabres made any indication of whether you’ll be in Rochester all year, or might you get a call-up?
HT: I haven’t heard anything. I’m just playing and trying to do my best. If they call me up, hey, that’s a bonus.
HF: How was your first NHL training camp?
HT: (Laughs) I was only in camp for 3 days, then I hurt my knee. So, it was a little disappointment. I couldn’t show what I can do in 3 days, but I have to show myself now, so it’s no big difference. Things like that happen.
HF: Was it intimidating for you at all, or maybe exciting, to go into the locker room with NHL players like Miro Satan, you know, some of the bigger names on the team?
HT: Yeah, of course. Names you hear back home, or when you watch TV and see these guys- it’s huge. But, you can’t go into training camp and just…you have to have respect for them, but you can’t be intimidated. You have to be sharp all the time, and try to do what they drafted you to do, because you’re good at what you do. So, I can’t change my play, I just have to show what I can do out on the ice.
HF: Did any of the veteran players show you some pointers, or didn’t you have a chance to get together with them?
HT: What do you mean, like try to intimidate me?
HF: No, no, not intimidate, just kind of show you the ropes a bit.
HT: Yeah, they did. They helped me a little bit, and I went out to eat with a couple of the guys. So, it’s a good experience, they’re a good bunch of guys up there.
HF: Going forward, Rochester is fighting for a playoff spot. There is still a good bit of the season left, so what do you think you have need to do to improve your chances?
HT: We have to give 100% in every game. It’s only, what, 35 games left, maybe? So, we have to do everything we can do to make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter- block shots, make good plays- everything, we have to do everything to make the playoffs.
HF: A final question- growing up, who was your favorite player, or the one you admired the most?
HT: No question, its Borje Salming.
HF: Borje Salming, really? I used to see him a lot, playing for Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada.
HT: Yeah, and another favorite is Niklas Lidstrom of Detroit, he’s a really good player, too. So, those 2 guys.
HF: Great! Well, Henrik, good luck. It was nice meeting you.
HT: Yeah, nice meeting you, too.