Americans hungry for SHL crown
A pair of American players in Sweden might be just what Färjestad needs to once again life the Le Mat Trophy.
Former Buffalo Saber Travis Turnbull works the puck during Färjestad's 4-3 win over Linköping Jan 14 in Linköping. Bildbyrån photo
Forwards Travis Turnbull and Robbie Earle signed with the perennial Swedish hockey power in December and arrived in the Swedish Hockey League with a common goal.
"We’re here to win. We want the championship," said Earle, 31. "That’s why we’re here."
Earle joined Färjestad after four seasons in Switzerland and one in Austria. He played 38 games for the Minnesota Wild and nine for the Toronto Maple Leafs before moving to Europe. He said moving to Sweden was another step up in his career.
“My first year in Europe I played against Swedish teams and the level is very impressive,” said Earle, who was born in Chicago, and grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Wisconsin where he attended the University of Wisconsin and was part of the U.S. National development team.
“What I found most impressive was the consistency. Every day, day in, day out, the players here keep a high level. Plus it’s a very fast game. I would put the SHL right up there with the best leagues in the world.”
So would Turnbull, who moved to Karlstad from Duesseldorf in the German league.
“I came here wanting to help this team make the playoffs and contend for championship,” said the 29-year-old St. Louis native. “One of the reasons I decided to come to Färjestad was I won a championship in Germany and I’m hungry for a championship here.”
Turnbull appeared to be on track for a long NHL career in 2011-2012 when the owners locked out the players, disrupting the 2012-2013 season. Rather than sit around waiting, Turnbull said he decided to accept an offer to play in Germany. He said he enjoyed it so much he decided to stay, but when he was unable to come to new terms with Duesseldorf, Färjestad was there to snap him up.
“To be honest, the SHL did remind me of when I got called up to the NHL because it’s so fast and the guys are so smart,” said Turnbull, who played three games for the Buffalo Sabers before the lockout. “Nobody takes shift off and the hockey is very structurally tight. There’s a really high level of skill. It’s really great hockey.”
Turnbull and Earle play on either side of Swedish center Michael Johansson, with Turnbull on the right and Earle on the left. Turnbull said fitting in with his new linemates was almost seamless.
“I played against Robbie in college,” said Turnbull, who played for the University of Michigan while Earle played for Wisconsin. “We knew about each other. The hockey world is pretty small and it was good to have another American here. He called me up the day I signed and invited me over for Christmas dinner.
The familiarity off ice has translated easily to the rink as Turnbull has five points in his first six games, meshing seamlessly into a line with Earle, 20 (6 goals, 14 assists) points in 31 games, and Johansson, 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 33 games.
“Travis has a great hockey IQ and so does Mikael,” Earle said. “That’s one of the things that really surprised me about Swedish hockey — all the guys have really good hockey IQs. Travis and I have the same mentality and it’s not hard to gel with a player like that. Mikael is highly skilled playmaker. He plays a solid game at both ends of the ice. He’s very creative and he likes to pass.”
Since head coach Tommy Samuelsson put the Turnbull-Johansson-Earle line together, FBK has gone 3-3 and remains in sixth place in the league. The Wolfpack are coming off a tough home-and-home series with Linköping, winning on the road in overtime January 14 before dropping the return match January 16 at the Löfbergs Lila Arena in a shootout. Despite the loss, FBK picked up a point, which Turnbull said is the most important thing.
“No one likes to lose, but the point is important,” he said. “We’re just four points out of third place so every point matters.”
Linköping holds third place while Frölunda and Skellefteå continue to set the pace at the top of the standings with 76 points. Linkoping has 60 points while Brynäs and Luleå are level with 58. Färjestad is sixth with 56 points. With 14 games remaining, Turnbull and Earle both said Färjestad has everything it needs to hoist the Le Mat trophy for the tenth time.
“I think we have everything we need. I really do,” Earle said. “That’s why we’re all here. We want the championship.”