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BLOG: Hellberg Back on Top of His Game

 

Pro athletes are always urged to not allow the "highs to get too high" or the "lows to get too low". It's a way of saying to keep an even keel.

After last season, you'll have to excuse Magnus Hellberg if he allowed those lows to get to him.

That's one of the reasons why Hellberg was very happy to be named to the AHL's Western Conference All-Star Team earlier this week.

Hellberg is just the third goalie to represent the Admirals in the AHL All-Star Classic. Pekka Rinne ('06 & '08) and Mark Dekanich ('11) are the others.

"It's an honor to be selected to represent the Milwaukee Admirals," said Hellberg. "It feels good to redeem myself a little from last year."

To say Hellberg was flying high at the end of his rookie season would be an understatement. But his second season turned into a nightmare.

"I had a tough season in Juniors when I was, maybe, 15, but last year was the toughest season of my career."

Nobody expected it to be that way after his rookie campaign in 2012-13. After a slow start, Hellberg went 18-7-0 from Feb.1 until the end of that season. His goals against average was under 2.00 in each of those months and he recorded six shutouts in those 27 games.

Milwaukee lost in the playoffs that year to Texas 3-games to 1, but not because of Hellberg who posted a 1.69 goals against average in the four contests.

The job to serve as the backup to Pekka Rinne seemed to be open the next training camp. The Predators had rookie Marek Mazanec in camp and also brought in free agent Carter Hutton, who had never played a NHL game but had several great moments in the AHL, particularly against Milwaukee, with the Rockford IceHogs.

On the first day of training camp Hellberg left practice with an injury and lost his chance to start the season in the NHL. He began the 2013-14 campaign with a 1-2-0 mark for the Admirals, then was recalled to Nashville when Rinne developed an infection in his surgically repaired hip which would cost him most of the year. Hellberg finally got his shot in the NHL.

Hellberg made his NHL debut in relief of Hutton Oct. 26 against St. Louis. In 12:12 of playing time, he allowed a power play goal on four shots. He spent much of his time, however, sitting on the bench so the decision was made to get him some playing time by returning him to Milwaukee and recalling the rookie Mazanec.

While Hellberg went 2-7-1 in Milwaukee during the month of November, his roommate Mazanec was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for his play in Nashville's net. At the same time, Scott Darling was starting to get hot. Darling went 6-1-0 for the Admirals in December.

"You let up a bad goal and you notice people staring down at you. You feel like you're letting your teammates down," said Hellberg.

Hellberg was struck by an injury again when the Admirals played at San Antonio Jan. 16, 2014. He suffered an ankle injury late in the game, which would eventually be lost in a shootout. Hellberg left the game with just four seconds remaining in overtime, forcing Hannu Toivonen into the net for the shootout loss.

Hellberg finished his sophomore AHL season with a 5-13-1 record. "It's embarrassing. It's tough. When it gets tough you overthink stuff. It wasn't fun, but it made me a stronger person."

When he became healthy, Hellberg played seven games for ECHL Cincinnati to close the regular season, but by then there was no room in Milwaukee with Mazanec and Darling playing so well. There was no playing time available in Cincy either because Rob Madore was leading the team to the Kelly Cup Final.

"You learn a lot when it doesn't go your way. Everybody kind of shuts you out and doesn't believe in you. It's only you. You have to believe in yourself. I never stopped believing in myself. I knew how I could play. My goal was to come back harder and better."

Magnus finally returned to Sweden at the end of June after the Cyclones playoff run. That's when things started to turn around for him.

"I had a really good summer. I worked closely with the staff and goalie coaches. I had a plan and I worked it."

He traveled to Finland to spend a week with goalie coach Jukka Ropponen, who trained a number of Finland's goaltending coaches and has also worked with coaches in Switzerland, Russia, and other countries.

Nashville goalie coaches Ben Vanderklok and Dave Rook devised a plan to get the most out of Hellberg this season. They put him a little deeper in the net and allowed him to rely on his size and quickness.

Admirals head coach Dean Evason has liked what he's seen. "Ben Vanderklok and Dave Rook have worked well with him and helped him get back to where he was a couple years ago. He's playing a really big game. He's a sound goaltender and is very deserving of this honor."

Hellberg had to cancel plans to go to Mexico over the All-Star break, but he's just fine with that.
"It feels good to get off to a good start this season and getting the All-Star selection is awesome."

Of course, he knows that goalies don't really get much support in All-Star games as they would during a regular season game.

"I asked Dave Rook 'Is it 2-on-0, breakaways all the time?'. I'm sure it will be some of that but it'll be great to meet a few guys. There are three other Swedes on my team, including (Utica goalie) Jacob Markstrom, so it'll be fun. I'm looking forward to it."

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