When you don’t know where to buy groceries, understanding a new offensive system might come a little slower than normal. After all, wondering how or when you may eat can use up quite of a bit of one’s mental faculties.
When English is your second language, you may be a little uncomfortable in a locker room where it is the dominant one.
And when you’ve never been to the United States, let alone Milwaukee, there’s a culture shock that wears off at an unpredictable pace.
It’s the unseen side of professional sports, and what new athletes have to deal with while they try to perform.
"You have to have balance in your life and if you can take out a couple aspects that makes your focus more on hockey," said Milwaukee Admirals goaltender Magnus Hellberg said with a knowing smile. "That makes a huge difference."
Hellberg, who will only turn 24 in April, walked in these shoes just three short years ago.
The Uppsala, Sweden, native was thrust into not only American life, but the American Hockey League and the Admirals.
So when a crop of new rookies joined the Admirals this offseason, including fellow Swede Viktor Arvidsson, Hellberg took it upon himself to help acclimate his new teammates.
That included piling them into his Ford Explorer, seven deep, and taking them around town and showing them places to live, where to shop, to eat … to live.
"I remember when I first got over here and everything was new to me, a new country, another language, I had a couple guys that took care of me my first year and that was huge for me," Hellberg said. "I mean, that makes you focus a little bit more on hockey and you don't have to take care of all the stuff that you worry about when before you take off and leave."
Arvidsson, a native of Skelleftea, Sweden, is 21 years old, and appreciated the fact that he had a countryman on his team that could help him navigate everything about professional hockey in America.
Through 47 games, the right winger has 15 goals and 21 assists to lead the team in points with 36.
Hellberg smiled again.
"Arvidsson has been playing great so far," he said. "So, I have to take a little credit for that I think."
It would seem like his rookie campaign has come easy, but the off ice adjustment was a big one for the Nashville Predators’ fourth round draft pick last year.
"That kind of was pretty tough at the beginning," Arvidsson admitted. "But now when you have your place and you know where you buy groceries and stuff like that you feel more calm. It feels a lot better."
Not only did the rookie have some off-ice insecurity, his chosen profession wasn’t exactly a safe haven. With the changes in style in American hockey versus the Swedish Hockey League – such as its speed and physicality – Arvidsson found himself trying to tread water, even if he was still playing well.
"I feel like hockey wise, it’s a pretty big adjustment from back home in Europe. The skill level and stuff like that, you need to play a lot quicker here and think a lot quicker, make quicker decisions to make good plays, to not get stuck in your end or turn pucks over. I’ve got a feel for it now, how to play, but I still want to get better and reach the NHL."
With 29 games left in this season, the Admirals sit atop the Midwest Division (28-13-2-4) and are currently the third seed in the Western Conference, just four points behind the Oklahoma City Barons.
Arvidsson has been a key part of that success to date, and he’s only becoming more comfortable on the ice.
Part of that is just through the experience gained naturally through game play – "It’s tough to just tell someone, this is how we’re going to do it. You have to play games and experience it and do mistakes so you learn by yourself," Hellberg said – but much of it has to do with how settled Arvidsson feels he’s becoming in Milwaukee.
"I like living here," he said. "Now when I’ve been here for a while, I find places to eat and try to try new things. There are a lot of good restaurants here. Carson’s is good. It’s close to the rink and we go there for lunch. I like the town. My apartment is perfect. The people are nice here and there’s a lot of fun. I’ve had a lot of fun since I’ve been here. I only have positive things to say."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.