John Persson has earned every break in his hockey career, working his way from the Western Hockey League, to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and eventually a late-season call up to the New York Islanders.
Persson’s 10-game stint with the Islanders began with a scramble to meet the team in Tampa Bay, where he arrived at the rink 10 minutes before puck drop. After a hectic start to his NHL career, the 6’2, 209 lbs. winger settled into a second-line role, playing a simple, physical game, eventually scoring his first NHL goal on April 5 against the Washington Capitals.
The Ostersund, Sweden native now knows what it takes to compete and excel at the professional level. With one year remaining on his entry-level deal, Persson is training hard on Long Island to build off of last season’s call up.
SoundTigers.com: You had quite the journey when you were called up from the Sound Tigers to the Islanders. What was going through your mind on the plane?
John Persson: This is it. I am going to play my first NHL game. It was very, very exciting.
ST: But you cut it very close trying to make it…
JP: Yeah, I was thinking I better get there. In your mind you get set to play, but in that situation you start to think or am I? It’s a weird feeling and I don’t think a lot of guys go through that. They know if they are going to play or not.
When you finally got to the rink for the anthems, what was going through your mind?
JP: When I got to Tampa, I remember the coaches tried to show me a couple of faceoff plays. It was rushed. I remember looking up during the national anthem and thinking, “this is for real.”
ST: How did the flight to Tampa compare to the flight back to Long Island?
JP: It was a little different. I was in the middle seat kind of cramped on the way there. I had never been on the team’s first-class charter before, so it was a really cool experience.
ST: What was the most exciting thing about your first game?
JP: The whole day was exciting. Calling my mom and dad back home in Sweden and letting them know really quickly. It was a cool way of how it happened. I called and said, “I’m playing tonight.” They said, “Are you really?” It’s a pretty big time difference back home, but my whole family stayed up and watched it.
ST: What was your welcome to the NHL moment?
JP: It was probably when I scored my first goal. I was just sitting there waiting and I wasn’t sure if the ref was going to point to call it a goal or not, but when he said it was a goal, I was just really pumped.
ST: What did you learn on Long Island in your 10 games with the team?
JP: The game is obviously faster. Your thinking has to be quicker, everything is bigger around you, the crowds, the arenas, everything like that.
ST: You’ve decided to do some training on Long Island this summer. What is your focus for the offseason?
JP: I am out here on Long Island training with the strength coaches trying to get ready for next season. This summer is a really big one for me because it’s the last year of my contract. Obviously you want to come back in as good a shape as possible and try to make the most of it.
I’m focusing mostly on my skating and trying to become a quicker player. I am already pretty big, but every year you try to work on your strength as well. But mainly my movement and my skating.
ST: How was your game evolved over the past five years since coming over from Sweden?
JP: It was really huge for me to leave home and go over and play in the junior league. There are more games, the grind of practice and playing is similar to the NHL. The rinks are smaller, the competition is tougher.
You take a step to junior and then the next step is to become a leader in junior. Then you move up to the AHL and then you try to become a leader there. I was fortunate enough to get that opportunity last year and prove myself. I am very excited for next year to do the same.