Samuelsson Jr. lands with USA

Three Crowns not worth a two-year wait

09.04.2009
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Philip Samuelsson plays for Team USA, his father did for Sweden. Photo: Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images

Remember Ulf Samuelsson? He was Swedish defenseman who midway through the 1998 Olympic hockey tournament in Nagano was “caught” being American and sent home. Eleven years later, Philip Samuelsson – Ulf’s son – will debut for Team USA at the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship.

The Ulf Samuelsson debacle in Nagano reached such proportions that it eventually landed as #72 on the IIHF’s list of 100 Top Stories of the Century when the federation celebrated its centennial last season.

To make a very long story short: Dual citizen Ulf Samuelsson didn’t know that his U.S. passport annulled his Swedish citizenship according to Swedish law at that time. After this was revealed midway through the Olympics – and after a juridical drama which lasted 24 hours – the defenseman had to leave the tournament. He was disqualified as ineligible to play for Sweden.

Ulf’s son Phillip, 17, also has dual citizenship and could theoretically choose between representing the United States and Sweden internationally. This season, Philip played for both countries in exhibition games.

He represented Sweden at the U18 Four Nations Tournament in Lake Placid, USA in November and played with Team USA at the corresponding event in Nyköping, Sweden in February.

Since Philip was born in the United States and has played all of his hockey there, opting to play for Team Sweden would have created a major obstacle. According to the IIHF’s eligibility regulations, a player must participate for at least two consecutive years in the national competition of a country before he is eligible to represent that country in an IIHF event.

Because of this rule, playing for Sweden became virtually impossible since Philip would basically lose his two international junior years waiting to become a Swede in the eyes of the IIHF. (Note: He could play for both countries in the Four Nation events as they are exhibition).

“We made some serious efforts to see whether it was possible for Philip to play for our program,” said Tommy Boustedt, the director of youth development at the Swedish Ice Hockey Association. “It was during that period that Philip joined us at the Four Nations event in Lake Placid. But after looking at the IIHF eligibility regulations, we realized that it would make no sense for him and us to wait to years. So at the next Four Nations in February he was back with Team USA.”

After watching his father Ulf play more than a decade in the NHL, Philip Samuelsson always knew that hockey was in his future. And like his father, young Samuelsson patrols the blueline as he continues to inch closer to the big leagues.

Playing this past season with the Chicago Steel in the USHL (United States Hockey League), Philip is just another 2009 NHL draft eligible player the scouts have been looking at out of the East Division. At 187 cm (6’2) and 91 kilos (200 lbs.), Samuelsson already has comparable size to his father and is also a defensive-defenseman. And while he doesn’t have quite the feistiness his dad had, Philip is developing quite the edge.

Hockey’s Future had a chance to catch up with Samuelsson as he was preparing to join Team USA for the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championships in Fargo, North Dakota. This interview is published with the kind permission from www.hockeysfuture.com

How was it growing up in a hockey household?

Well, obviously I was around the game a lot with my dad playing in the NHL. So I got thrown into that at a really early age and just figured out that it was one thing that I wanted to do. So from there, I’ve just been around it ever since.

Was it hockey all the way or did you have interests in other sports?

I played lacrosse for a bit but I wasn’t as serious with it as I was with hockey. And I played other stuff, but it just came down to hockey.

And how was your dad? Was there any influence from to him or did he let you find your way?

He was very supportive and let me do what I wanted to do. Once I was serious with hockey, he came in and started mentoring me. He’s had a big hand in turning me into the player I am today.

I guess there isn’t any better guidance then that coming from someone who was an international star. How was that?

You really can’t compare it, you know. Having a father who played in the NHL and knows what it takes to make it that level, it’s been a huge advantage.

Before you joined the Chicago Steel in the USHL you spent some time playing for the PF Chang's program back in the Phoenix area. What was that like? How well is youth hockey coming along?

I was fortunate to play two years there. At first, I didn’t think it was going to be that competitive. But the ‘91 and ‘92 classes in Phoenix are really talented. There are about five or six kids in the USHL and getting scholarships. I was pleasantly surprised about the level out there and I made some friends out of it.

And looking at youth game back there, do you think they’re doing the right things out there to help it grow?

They have some real good coaching out there. If the interest stays as high as it is now, hopefully there will continue to be enough coaching for the kids that come out.

You spent last season with the Steel. How was the overall experience and how much would you say it’s helped your development?

It’s been huge. The USHL is a well-respected league. I was fortunate enough to in and earn my ice time right from the start. From there, I was also lucky to play a lot from there. I was also able to improve a lot of things, especially my skating, gap control, and other skills such as shooting the puck harder.

In addition to your play in the USHL, you saw some time on the international front playing with both Team USA and Team Sweden at different tournaments. What was that like for you?

It was amazing. Being on that stage and wearing your countries colors is just an honor. Those times really fly by, but they’re fun.

About playing with those two teams; can you talk about the differences from one squad to another?

PS:  There’s more finesse in the Sweden’s game. They utilize their top players’ skills to get what they need done. As for the U.S., they’re pretty system-orientated which is good. There are still opportunities for players to use their creativity. Then there are two styles because the Swedish kids play on the bigger ice, while the U.S. plays on smaller rinks.  And just that alone generates different types of players.

Since your season has concluded with the Steel, you’re set to join Team USA again for the IIHF World U18 Championships in Fargo/Moorhead. And as it stands right now, it looks like you’re the only player outside of USA Hockey’s national team development program (NTDP) to be with the team. What was it like to learn you’d be joining them for the biggest tourney of the year for your age group?

It’s just big. I know the rest of the guys have been with the NTDP for two years and they’ve been working hard. And it must be hard for some of those guys who won't get a chance to play at the tournament. As for me, it’s a big opportunity. Obviously they must have been happy how I played with Sweden at the last tournament. Hopefully I can come in and help the team win the gold.

Now, because this is an IIHF sanctioned event you will skate under the Team USA in any further international events. Was there any interest coming from Sweden?

It was pretty much Team USA from the get-go. And that made the decision a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.

For the tournament itself, you’ve already had a chance to skate with USA so it's safe to say you know their system. What kind of role do you see yourself in once you catch up with them?

I think that’s kind of tough to say now. I really want the chance to play as much as I can, but I understand all of that is merit based. I hoping to get on the penalty kill, see some power-play time. Overall, I want to be that solid defenseman that they can rely on there in any situation.

How important is it going to be to get in there and pick up things up again and look for some balance and chemistry?

It’s huge. If you’re with those kids all the time, you learn their tendencies. But I really have to pick up on what they like to do out there and fit in and be a contributor for them.

After you stop in Fargo and Moorhead, the next big event is the 2009 NHL Entry Draft this June in Montreal. Are you eager to get up and enjoy the event or are you more anxious to get it over with so you can begin to chart where your development is headed as you move forward?

I’m just excited to eventually be a part of that experience. If something happens, great. If I don’t get drafted, it’s not the end of the world. I’m just looking at it and really trying to stay positive as much as possible. But honestly, I’m not putting too much thought into it.

If you get picked, does anything really change for you or do you just keep chipping away and let things take care of themselves?

I’m sure the team that picks me up is going to have a say or idea on what they want me to work on. As for me, I’m just headed to Boston College and I’m just going to plug away and try to be a dominant player at the college level.

What style and approach do you take out there, and what are your strong points and areas you want to improve?

I’m pretty solid and I like to play the body. I’m pretty good on the penalty kill and I have a good shot from the point. I’m able to move the puck and think I do well with my passes. One thing that I think I need to improve on is getting my shots off quicker, gap control, and skating. You can never work enough on your skating.

We have noticed that you take a subtle approach to the game. You don’t try to overdo things. You seem to see the game really well and react accordingly. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

Yeah, I’d definitely say that poise is a big element of my game. I won’t throw the puck away either just for the sake of it too. I like to see what my options are and then try to make that pass without having it be the wrong one.

Looking back at your game over the last few years or so, have you noticed any improvement or difference is your approach?

My style of play is the same but I have to say that my skating has improved. The same goes for those small things. The style is the same, I’m just trying to add to it.

Now you mentioned playing at Boston College earlier. You do have the option to go to the WHL and play for the Edmonton Oil Kings if you so choose. Have you given it much thought, or are you content with your decision?

I think unless something drastic happens I’m headed to BC. It’s an option, Edmonton, but they're not really presenting themselves to me like BC did. So the choice is rather easy for me.

And lastly, looking ahead to the Eagles and next season, there is a lot of room for opportunity.  Are you eager to get up there and get things going?

I’m definitely excited to get up there. With all players that are moving on, there is a lot of opportunity come next fall. That is one reason why I picked the Eagles. There’s a chance to step in there, get to play right away and try and make a big impact from the start.

JEFF DAHLIA
Hockey’s Future

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