Ullmark right on the mark
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 FEB 2023
Sweden’s Linus Ullmark, who made his IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship debut in 2022, scored a rare goalie goal for Boston versus Vancouver on 25 February 2023.
photo: Andre Ringuette / IIHF
When an NHL goalie earns his 30th win of the season more quickly than any other netminder of the post-1967 expansion era (37 games), it’s headline-worthy in itself. Yet when Linus Ullmark of the league-leading Boston Bruins scored into an empty net with 48 seconds left in a 3-1 road win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, that was the real show-stealer.

“It’s one of the dreams I always had,” said the 29-year-old Swede, who is the consensus favourite for this year’s Vezina Trophy. “I wanted to score a goal. I had the opportunity and tried it at the Winter Classic [in a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh at Boston’s Fenway Park on 2 January]. Didn’t really make it. Now, everything just came together.”

This was just the eighth time in NHL history that a goalie has shot the puck into an empty net and the 13th time a goalie has been credited with a goal. The last netminder to achieve the feat was Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators on 9 January 2020. Ullmark becomes the first Swedish NHLer ever to do it.

Ullmark fired the puck over the heads of Vancouver forecheckers with remarkable authority to seal Boston’s sixth consecutive win. It was even more spectacular than the other goalie goal at Rogers Arena (known as Canada Hockey Place during the 2010 Olympics), scored by Yevgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks on 10 March 2002.
“That’s a football field goal right there!” said defenceman Hampus Lindholm with a grin. “It was fun to see, fun for him. He has been surprising us all year and he’s been stellar back there.”

“What a shot!” added Garnet Hathaway, who played his first game for Boston after being acquired along with Dmitri Orlov from the Washington Capitals. “I hope he gets more. That was awesome.”

Ullmark is physically and mentally in the best place of his career with a 1.86 GAA and 93.8 save percentage. The former 2012 sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres (163rd overall) is on track to top the 41 games he played last year in his first season as Boston’s starter.

Right now, coach Jim Montogmery’s Bruins look stacked and well-positioned to win their seventh Cup all-time and first since 2011. So it’s understandable that Ullmark would be not only confident enough to go for the empty-netter, but also to break down the details of his successful attempt with reporters afterwards.

Asked if he was completely confident that he would put the puck in, Ullmark replied: “No, I thought it went into my own net at first, actually! Because I didn’t see it. As soon as I shot, I saw three guys jumping toward me. I had no idea where it was. I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t see anything. Then, you kind of get to be a little more aware of what’s happening. The guys started looking up ice. I saw it going toward the net, and the rest is history.”

The onetime Modo Ornskoldsvik star, who was named Sweden’s Goalie of the Year in 2015, took inspiration from many illustrious NHL predecessors. Ullmark mentioned seeing goals by Martin Brodeur (the all-time NHL goalie goals leader with three) and Ron Hextall, as well as Rinne. He cited Finnish goalie Jarmo Myllys, who scored twice in Elitserien (now SHL) play, as a puckhandling influence in his youth.
Yet Ullmark also got fired up by seeing Carl Lindbom score in a 5-1 Djurgarden win over AIK Stockholm on 22 February. Lindbom, 19, was Sweden’s starter at the 2023 World Juniors in Halifax and Moncton and was just named HockeyAllSvenskan’s top junior star.

“I got pretty jealous of him that he managed to do it at such a young age!” said Ullmark. “But now I can always look back and know that I managed to do it.”

The 193-cm, 97-kg veteran had never appeared in IIHF action himself until the 2022 IIHF World Championship, despite being named to the 2014 bronze-medal roster. Sweden’s sixth-place finish in Tampere wasn’t optimal. Still, Ullmark stepped up with a 2.26 GAA and 92.0 save percentage in three games – including a 1-0 shutout over Latvia – as a late roster addition. He used the experience to build toward the magic he’s enjoyed this year in Beantown.
“It’s all by getting a little bit of a bloody tooth,” Ullmark said. “We had an opportunity there in the quarter-finals against Canada and we lost [4-3 in OT], sadly. It really felt like we could have gone on to compete for the medals. I came in late and I played well. I got a little bit of retribution from the playoffs. I wanted to finish on a high note. Obviously, we didn’t get a medal out of it. But when I look back at it, I did a pretty good game, a pretty good tournament. I kind of built off of that, and a lot of things that we were working on kind of made more sense when I got back.”

In his Worlds debut in Tampere, Ullmark lost his goaltending duel with Bruins partner and U.S. starter Jeremy Swayman. In fact, Swayman drew an assist on Adam Gaudette’s 3-2 overtime winner. But there were obviously no lingering hard feelings when Ullmark scored his goal in Vancouver. In a ramped-up version of their post-game tradition, Swayman joyfully bear-hugged Ullmark after the final buzzer.
“Oh, he was ecstatic as well!” Ullmark said. “I was super-happy to share that with him. He was very close beforehand to scoring himself [in a 4-2 home win over Columbus on 17 December]. I would have done the same thing. I would have jumped off the bench, basically! So for him to share that with me, that means a lot to me.”

Getting the puck after scoring was a nice souvenir. And Ullmark described his 30th win as a “nice little bonus.” Yet with the NHL playoffs kicking off in mid-April, he’s eager for the chance to make even more history with a Stanley Cup. He’s confident the Bruins are up for the task.

“It’s just about how we played all season long,” Ullmark said. “It’s not a one-man show or anything like that. We’ve come together as a family, as a group. We have each other’s backs. It doesn’t matter what we’re facing. We know we can win 6-5, we know we can win 1-0.”

Both Boston fans and Swedish supporters are eager to see what the future holds for Ullmark. How is he going to top his goal versus Vancouver?

“I’m sure he’ll be on the power play next,” quipped Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Realistically, Ullmark would be more than happy if he and Swayman combined for 16 playoff wins come June. It’s hard to bet against him right now.