Learning to adapt to North American hockey is a complicated process for most European players; even more difficult is the adjustment to life away from the homeland. For Swedish players, there’s the craving for Pytt i panna, a meat and potato hash that literally means “a little something in a pan.”
It doesn’t help when you are, in your own words, “a really bad cook,” but Mattias Ritola is trying to make the most of his rookie season in Grand Rapids.
The talented forward, who won’t turn 21 until March 14, is learning what it takes to play in North America and what he needs to improve in order to reach his goal of playing in the National Hockey League.
What do you miss most about Sweden?
“I miss the food. You guys have cheese in everything. There’s not a lot of American food I can eat. Everything has so much fat. It’s not good.”
On the ice, what’s been your biggest adjustment?
“For me, it’s playing so many games. In Sweden, we play only 50 games in a season, so that means playing 30 more here. Plus it takes 10 hours to fly back to Sweden, so you realize you’re a long way from home. But we have a lot of great guys on this team, so it’s not so bad.”
Was it a hard decision to come to the U.S. to play hockey?
“It wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, I was really happy about it. I have so much to learn here – to learn to play physical, to play hard every game.
You don’t seem to mind throwing your weight around. Do you like hitting?
“Even if you’re a skilled player, you need to be able to do everything. With the style of hockey here, everything is so much faster. In Sweden, we play the trap more. Here, it’s more up and down.
“I feel a lot better than when I first got here. In the beginning, you just want to do the right stuff to win the coaches’ confidence. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”
I understand you’ve learned to like country music. Do you have country music in Sweden?
“In Sweden, it’s mostly pop and techno. I started listening to country here and I really like it now. I’m a fan actually. I love it all – Toby Keith, Rodney Atkins, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley.
“We saw Paisley and Atkins when we played in Manitoba, then saw the same concert here when we got back home.”
In addition to country music, you’re also a fan of YouTube. What do you like about it?
“When you sit in your apartment, you can get so bored, so YouTube is pretty fun. If you start watching, you can be up for hours.”
You have a girlfriend. Any plans?
“You (Americans) are crazy about that. You see guys here married at 20 or 21 all the time. It’s not like that in Sweden. Maybe if you are 28 or 30. Say you feel really good about it at 21, then you feel really bad at 26. Now what are you going to do?”