Where are they now?: Johan Hedberg, former Thrashers goaltender

Atlanta Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg is hit by a spot light as he warms up for a game at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009.  Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Atlanta Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg is hit by a spot light as he warms up for a game at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution catches up with former Atlanta sports figures in this occasional series. Today: Johan Hedberg

Johan Hedberg is about to start a new chapter of his old life.

The former goaltender, who spent four of his 12 NHL seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers, is moving back home to Sweden permanently for a new job. Following a lengthy career as a player and assistant coach in the United States, it’s time for Hedberg and his family to return to their roots.

Hedberg recently agreed to become head coach of Mora, in the Swedish Hockey League. His first job has a head coach will be for the main rival of Leksands, where he grew up and first played hockey. The towns are separated by about 25 miles along Lake Siljan.

Hedberg has come (almost) full circle.

The San Jose Sharks fired coach Peter DeBoer and several assistants, including Hedberg, on Dec. 11 ending his four-plus year run as the goaltender coach. It was then the Hedberg family seriously considered a return to Europe. A friend mentioned his name to Mora officials looking for a new leader and a couple months later the deal was done.

“I always liked the organization and the way they did things,” Hedberg told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s a small, small team but they’ve always been competitive. They are tough to play against. They have a lot of pride. For me, I got really intrigued about it. It’s a good social situation for us. … Everything just fit.”

Now, after the better part of 23 years in stops all over North America, Hedberg is going home.

Hedberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1994 (ninth round, 218th overall). He never got an invite to come to the United States to camp. He left Sweden in 1997 and tried the minor-league route. After another season with Leksands in 1998, he was traded to the Sharks and came back to the North America – and stayed.

Hedberg made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000. He also played for the Vancouver Canucks (2003-04), the Dallas Stars (2005-06), the Thrashers (2007-10) and the New Jersey Devils (2010-13).

Hedberg played under DeBoer with the Devils and after being bought out of his contract his final season, worked as a special assistant to general manager Lou Lamoriello. He joined DeBoer with the Sharks in 2015 as the goaltender coach.

Thrashers goaltender #1 Johan Hedberg concentrates on the puck as the Maple Leafs prepare to shoot on goal during 1st period action, Philips Arena, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007.     CURTIS COMPTON / Staff
Thrashers goaltender #1 Johan Hedberg concentrates on the puck as the Maple Leafs prepare to shoot on goal during 1st period action, Philips Arena, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007. CURTIS COMPTON / Staff

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

“It just fell in my lap,” Hedberg said of his transition from player to coach. “I really enjoyed it. It’s been a great run. I learned a lot from the coaches, management and players I’ve been around.

“Now, I wanted to have a new challenge and do something more, have more say or do things my own way. I was thinking about trying to get a job in Europe somewhere as an assistant coach or head coach. This ended up being perfect. We are on the same page with the guys in Mora in what we want to create. I’m excited about that.”

Hedberg remains in California, unable to travel because of the conoravirus pandemic. He has plans to return to Sweden in early June, but that remains to be seen because of international travel restrictions. He has remained engaged in his new position working on recruiting, scouting and organizational development by phone and video conference. There are plans to get on the ice Aug. 1 if possible.

“I kind of know what works for me,” Hedberg said. “Take things from different coaches but I want to find my own way. I think the most important thing for coaches is you have to be yourself. If you aren’t, players see through that pretty quickly. I’m going to take all the knowledge I have over the years and put it into my own coaching way and hopefully we are going to have some success.”

Mora and Leksands have battled recently to stay in the elite division of the Swedish hockey league and not be relegated to the second division. Currently Leksands is with the elites, Mora is not. That’s where Hedberg comes in.

Hedberg, always a fan favorite, especially in Atlanta, still looks fondly on his time with the Thrashers. He, like a lot of people, laments the ownership situation and the lack of a grassroots effort to grow the sport of hockey in Atlanta.

“It’s a shame it didn’t work out because everything was there,” Hedberg said. “The fan base was getting built. The arena was phenomenal. For me, they should have started building the grass roots much stronger right away, making sure they were putting rinks up in every little town. You have to get the kids playing to get the sport to grow in the city and become part of it. You get a pro team and pretty much nothing else, you need the kids to get interested, get the parents interested, to grow it.”

Now, a new chapter for Hedberg. He soon will be leaving Los Gatos, California, for Mora, Sweden, with quite an NHL career behind.

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