BURLINGTON, Canada – Danijela Rundqvist wants to make one thing perfectly clear. She is NOT the daughter of former Swedish national team captain Thomas Rundqvist.
The relationship is a myth some TV commentators, ill-informed by their neophyte researchers, have been propogating at the last three Olympics. Moreover the Swedish women’s team winger doesn’t think Hans Rundqvist, who IS her father, gets nearly enough credit for the hours he has put in helping her develop as a player.
“He taught me how to skate at the age of 5 and when I started to play hockey, he drove me to all of my early morning practices,” she said. “He was not a player and is not one of those parents who tries to tell you how you should play. He’s just been an amazing support.”
Last month Hans took some vacation days from his job as a prison guard in Sweden, flew to Canada and showed up unannounced to watch his daughter play for the Burlington Barracudas of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“My father was here for four games and I scored four goals for him while he was here,” she said. One of them came in a shootout to give Burlington a 5-4 win over Toronto.
Rundqvist, known by her teammates as ‘Danni’, wears jersey number 55 with the Barracudas because her father was born in 1955.
The Stockholm native entered her name for the CWHL’s first draft last summer and was selected 13th overall by the Barracudas.
“I came to Canada because I wanted to play against the best players in the world,” she said.
Rundqvist led the Barracudas in scoring with 11 goals and 15 points in 22 games, playing on the same team as Olympic gold medalist Becky Kellar of Canada.
“She really had a great second half of the season,” Kellar said. “It was nice to get to know her, I’ve played against her for so many years.”
Among the other Olympic gold medalists in the league are
Jayna Hefford, Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper of Brampton; Caroline Ouellette, Kim St. Pierre, and Sarah Vaillancourt of Montreal; Jennifer Botterill and Tessa Bonhomme of Toronto and veteran U.S. defender Angela Ruggiero of Boston. Rundqvist has a reputation as a feisty player and has had more than one clash with Canadian star Hayley Wickenheiser.
“I don’t start anything,” Rundqvist says, “but I don’t take anything either.”
Kellar also recalls her rugged play.
“There was one game in a pre-Olympic tournament in Vancouver in August of 2009 that got a little testy,” she said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of some of her hits. She’s a very strong girl and I was quite happy when it was us who drafted her.”
Rundqvist has been boarding with the family of Ted and Fran Colley in Burlington and has become a big sister to the Colleys’ three boys Rhys, 11, Jared, 7, and Cade, 4.
“All of them play hockey,” Rundqvist said. “Ted and I have been running some practices for Jared’s team, teaching them power skating.”
Rundqvist says the CWHL has a higher level of play, but is not yet as well organized as the league in Sweden. She plans to play in the CWHL again next season, if she can find a way to get some financial compensation. Unlike their male counterparts in the NHL, female players often live on a shoestring. She even says asking NHLers with their multi-million-dollar salaries to sponsor players in women’s leagues might not be a bad idea.
“This league needs a couple of years to get established,” she said. “But I want something to happen now, I haven’t got the patience to sit around and wait.
Rundqvist once worked in customer service for Stadium, the largest sports company in Sweden, but she has been a full-time hockey player since 2009. Including the money she could have made working back home, she estimates coming to Canada for the year has cost her about $25,000. She has the full support of Niclas Högberg, who has taken over as coach of the Swedish women’s team from Peter Elander.
Incredibly, Rundqvist started playing in the Swedish Women’s League at the age of 13 and was only 17 when she made her debut in the Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002. She won the Swedish championship three times with AIK and the club also won four European titles while she was playing there.
After the Swedish women won their first Olympic medal – a bronze – at Salt Lake City in 2002, each of the players received $1,500 from the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. Rundqvist, therefore, was quite surprised when they initially received nothing for upsetting the United States in the semifinals and winding up with a silver medal at Torino in 2006.
“Money is very important for us,” she said. “I called the federation to see if we would be getting something, and they said, no.”
The federation later did an about-face and gave each of the silver medalists $1,500.
“I just wanted them to show some appreciation for what we did,” she said.
Rundqvist credits the Swedish Olympic Association with providing the impetus that resulted in a pair of Olympic medals.
In the Olympic season of 2009-10, the Swedish girls received financial support, relative to the amount of money they were making in their regular jobs. Her share was $800 a month, not enough to live on, but definitely a big boost. She also has played in five World Championships, winning two bronze medals. In 190 games with the Swedish national team, she has scored 41 goals.
Maria Rooth, who scored the winning goal to beat the U.S. in Torino in 2006, has retired from the national team and is working as an assistant coach to Shannon Miller at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. But Erika Holst, Sweden’s other great star, will return to play in her 10th World Championship in Switzerland in April.
Veteran Gunilla Andersson, 35, is expected to make her 11th World Championship appearance on defence. Also returning are goalie Kim Martin, Elin Holmlov and Pernilla Winberg who all play college hockey for the Minnesota-Duluth in the U.S. Katarina Timglas had to have back surgery and that has forced her into retirement.
One of the team’s bright new prospects is 19-year-old defenceman Linnea Backman, whom Rundqvist predicts will eventually become among the world’s best blueliners.
Rundqvist flew to St. John’s, Nfld., to play for her country in the November Four Nations Tournament, but has missed monthly national team camps and subsequent international tournaments which conflicted with her CWHL schedule. The Swedes went winless in November, losing 8-1 to eventual champion Canada, but were impressive in winning the February event in Torp, Sweden, against Finland, Germany and Russia.
Sweden will open its World Championship training camp in Stockholm in early April, then fly to Switzerland on April 12. The Barracudas failed to make the playoffs and their season was over by the end of February. However, Rundqvist will remain in Burlington for the month of March and has lined up practice icetime with several clubs, including the girls team at Appleby College in Oakville.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “It was fun to be part of the first draft ever in women’s hockey. I just want to be a hockey player right now. Afterwards, I’ll be working for the rest of my life.