GÄVLE, Sweden – Despite the early struggles of his club this season, 28-year old Ryan Gunderson’s play has remained consistent. Gunderson, now in his third year with Brynäs IF, is one of the SHL’s premier offensive defenseman and a steady contributor from the blueline.
“I think as an offensive D I am always going to be judged on production. It feels good to contribute and fill that role.”
Brynäs have battled injury early this year and Gunderson acknowledges the impact younger players have made on their roster.
“I would say we have played pretty well overall. We have definitely battled some injury problems, but the juniors have done a good job of filling in for us and we have still managed to take a decent amount of points considering the guys we have had missing.”
The powerplay has proved to be a point of salvation for the club, ranking second among the SHL’s 12 sides at 22%. Gunderson, Anton Rodin and Sebastian Lauritzen lead the team with three PP goals apiece.
“I think we actually had a tough start to the season on the powerplay, but recently things seem to be working better. Right now it feels like we are playing a simpler game with the man advantage and just getting a lot of pucks to the net.”
“It’s definitely nice when the PP is going well, you can sometimes steal a game with that.”
One noticeable difference for Gunderson on the ice this season is the ‘A’ on his jersey.
“It’s an honour to be wearing a letter, especially for a classic Swedish team like Brynäs. There’s a lot of history in the organisation and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my game at all. I talk a little more in the dressing room and I have a bit more dialogue with the coaches, but otherwise I just try to lead by example.”
On the question of youth at Brynäs, Gunderson highlights like-minded defenseman and Washington Capitals prospect Christian Djoos as a standout.
“It seems like there’s a limitless amount of good junior players in the Brynäs organisation. [Djoos] is similar in playing style to me, but has better size. I think when he fills out his frame a bit more he will really start to stand out.”
Gunderson, like his team-mates, is eager to put the disappointment of last season’s playoff defeat behind him. After winning the championship in 2012, Brynäs were swept from the post-season by successors Skellefteå.
“It’s never fun to be swept from the playoffs. At the same time we had a tough second half of the year and kind of limped in. We had a depleted squad but we battled until the end, unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Skellefteå had a really good team as well.”
Pennsylvania-born Gunderson moved to Sweden in 2010 after a season with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, joining then-Allsvenskan club Örebro. He adjusted quickly on the ice, leading all defenseman with 39 points in 52 games.
“I guess I should probably thank my agent for an easy transition. I came into a really good team with a lot of great PP guys and I was given a chance to play. It definitely made the transition easier.”
“The first three seasons I was actually the only North American on my team, so I definitely have worked my way into the Swedish culture a bit just by spending time with my team-mates.”
Gunderson admits to not being on the radar for NHL clubs prior to his move, but adds that he is not surprised by the lack of interest either.
“For me the goal was always to build up a resume in the minors and then try to work my way up to a top league in Europe.”
“I don’t think it’s that surprising. I think I fit in well to the European game, but it’s tough to say how that would transfer to the NHL level.”
Gunderson has maintained contact with his former team-mates in Örebro since leaving for Brynäs. He followed their promotion run last season and says he has enjoyed playing against them this year.
“I was able to watch some of the games on TV while I was still in Sweden and followed the rest of Kvalserien online after I was home for the summer.”
“I talked to a few of the guys and it felt like getting promoted to the SHL was just as big as winning a championship. It was fun to follow and fun to play them this season.”
Gunderson’s contract with Brynäs expires at the end of this season and though committed to his short-term future in Sweden, the defenseman says he is keeping his options open for now with regard to a move elsewhere.
“I think at this point with an outgoing contract I have to consider all options. I would like to see how high of a level I can take my game.”
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