By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
February 9, 2004
Copyright © The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Born and raised in Boden, Sweden, Johan Astrom had never strayed far from his roots when it came to playing hockey.
Until this season.
After 11 years of playing professional hockey in Europe and at 30 years of age, Johan Astrom was looking for a change of pace.
He found it with the Bakersfield Condors and the ECHL.
“One day my agent called and asked me if I might want to play in Bakersfield,” Astrom said. “I talked to my wife (Maarit), we got the offer and said ‘Yes’ right away.”
For Astrom, the lure to the West Coast was twofold.
“Hockey is one part,” Astrom said. “I always wanted to play (in North America) because of the smaller rink. I heard the play would be faster and it is much faster.
“The other part is the opportunity to see another culture and live here for a while. That’s good for you.”
Astrom said his wife and son are enjoying the experience and have no regrets.
On the ice, Astrom has adjusted quite nicely to the smaller rink (15 feet narrower than the Olympic-sized ice used in Europe) and is leading the Condors in goal scoring with 19.
“He’s got a great release and a great wrister,” Condors coach Paul Kelly said of Astrom, who shoots left-handed and plays left wing. “He’s very strong on the puck, can dig it out of the corners and he’s a strong skater.”
Astrom has skated on a line with center Kevin Riehl all season. Jason Ralph has played right wing on that line for the past several games and the trio has been effective.
Ralph and Astrom are tied for the team lead with 21 goals while ranking second and third, respectively, in scoring with scoring with 41 points and 36 points. Riehl leads the team in points with 49 and assists with 31 while ranking third in goals with 18.
“We play well together,” Astrom said. “Kevin is a good skater and Ralph takes the body and crashes the net.”
Astrom said it’s difficult to compare European hockey to North American hockey, basically because of the difference in rink size.
“It makes a big difference,” he said of the smaller ice surface. “You have to shoot or pass much faster because you have less room. It’s been pretty much like I expected, except maybe not quite as much offense.”
That’s because most teams in the ECHL concentrate on trying to keep the opponent from scoring.
“Many teams play defensive and trap,” Astrom said. “But you have to do it. You have to have a system; you just can’t run around out there. They play a trap in Europe, too.”
But in Europe, there is not rule against a two-line pass, meaning a player in his own zone can make a pass to a teammate on the far side of the red line (center ice).
“There’s not a red line (in Europe) and I think that’s better because it creates more offense,” Astrom said.
Which is what one would expect a goal scorer to say.