ANAHEIM – In his first year in North American, goaltender Viktor Fasth has seemingly come out of nowhere to star for the Anaheim Ducks, but his success proves the value of hard work and fierce determination.
Considering that less than four years ago, Viktor Fasth needed a second job as a teacher’s aide to supplement his hockey salary just to make ends meet, there’s no way to understate how much the 30-year-old netminder appreciated the security afforded by a new contract extension from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
A native of Kalix, Sweden, Fasth originally signed a one-year deal with Anaheim last summer to back up number one goaltender Jonas Hiller. But on Feb. 20, after winning his first eight NHL starts and helping the Ducks get off to a 12-2-1 start, he inked a two-year contract extension worth $2.4 million next season and $3.4 million in 2014-15.
What he’s been able to accomplish in his first season in North America, following just two seasons in Sweden’s Elitserien, is nothing short of remarkable.
Through March 21, Fasth had compiled a stellar 11-1-1 record and ranked fifth in the league with a 2.00 goals-against average and was third with a .928 save percentage while posting two shutouts.
Early in the season, when Hiller was injured, Fasth stepped into the crease and kept the Ducks on track, as the club has bolted out to a stunning 22-3-4 start, good for second overall in the NHL.
“I’ve been enjoying my time here so far,” said Fasth. “The team’s been playing really good, which makes it a lot easier for a goalie. You always want to play as good as you can and try to help the team however you can and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
What make his sudden emergence as a top NHL goaltender even more remarkable is that it has even surprised his coach.
“I didn’t expect him to play 10 games, quite frankly,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau admitted. “If you’d have asked me in the summer time - just because Hilly played so many games in a row for us last season and I knew he could handle the load in a short season, but when he’s come in, he’s played stronger and looked better each time he’s played.”
Now that Hiller is back healthy and rolling, the Ducks have been using both netminders fairly regularly, although Hiller is getting the majority of starts.
“It’s hard not to want to play him,” Boudreau said of Fasth. “And when you’ve got two good goalies and you’re playing every other day, it’s not like the backup gets one game every three weeks. He’s getting two games a week, so it’s keeping them both sharp, I think.”
Just being in the NHL at all is something that Fasth acknowledges that he simply couldn’t imagine just a few years ago. After toiling for years in the Swedish first and second divisions, Fasth moved up to the Allsvenskan (one level below the Elitserien) and starred for the Vaxjo Lakers from 2007-10.
“Basically, this was not an option for me,” Fasth said of a possible NHL career. “It became a possibility last year at the age of 29. Before that, I dreamt about it but I couldn’t believe I could ever play in the NHL.”
But he continued to push himself, working another job at the same time, because he loved the game and believed he could keep progressing.
“It says a lot about his character and his stick-to-it-iveness and his faith in his own ability,” Boudreau said. “That’s why he’s here at 30, because of those qualities.”
“In Sweden, I started up in the fourth league and I’ve been working my way up,” Fasth said. “I’ve always loved playing hockey and as long as you do that and you feel like you’re developing your game, that’s what keeps you doing it. When you don’t believe you can develop or get better, I think that’s the time when you should put the skates away.”
As for the job that helped subsidize his hockey career in Sweden for so many years, Fasth enjoyed the experience while also providing a valuable service to his community.
“I was helping the teachers out with kids who were having troubles and was kind of like an extra teacher for them,” Fasth recalled. “I really liked working with those kids. It was a challenge every day but you get so much back and I think it was a good thing for me to get away from hockey. It helps you kind of relax and not think about hockey every day and puts things in perspective.”
It was a grueling schedule, but Fasth persevered through it.
“I didn’t get paid enough to live on the hockey salary,” he explained. “Basically, every hockey player underneath league two (the Allsvenskan), they have to have their daytime job. It’s pretty tough. There’s a lot of good hockey players in those leagues working really hard in the day-time and they have to play good at night, too. It’s tough. A lot of my friends back home worked as a carpenter or things like that, from 7-4 and then go practice and they get home at 9:30 or 10 in the evening.”
His play with Vaxjo in the Allsvenskan was impressive enough that AIK, after moving up to the Elitserien in 2010-11, signed him and Fasth responded with a huge season, winning the Honken Trophy as the Elitserien’s top goalie. He helped AIK advance to the league semi-final and earned his first roster spot on the Swedish national team for the 2011 World Championships.
“It was a great experience, it’s a huge thing for any hockey player to have the honor of playing for the national team,” said Fasth, who went 6-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, along with three shutouts, in the 2011 tournament to lead Sweden to a silver medal while earning MVP honors.
“It’s always a big honor putting on that jersey. It was the first time I had a chance to play internationally, and that helps a hockey player show what they’re capable of. It was a huge step for my career.”
He delivered another outstanding performance in 2011-12, winning another Honken Trophy while leading AIK back to the semi-final. He also assumed the role of Team Sweden’s number one netminder at the 2012 World Championships.
“Even in the Swedish League, he was the best goalie and that’s why he got a chance on the national team, too, and he did a great job there,” said Dallas Stars forward and Team Sweden teammate Loui Eriksson. “I knew he was a really good goalie and he’s gotten a chance to play in Anaheim and he’s been doing a tremendous job.”
Now that he’s reached the best hockey league in the world, Fasth realizes he cannot rest on his accomplishments, even with the contract extension.
“Maybe until about four years ago, I would work full-time and then practice hockey in the evenings, so it’s really a privilege for me to do what I love to do most full-time,” said Fasth. “You have to keep working hard and you can’t take anything for granted. You have to earn your spot in this league every day.”