January 16, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Stalberg Takes the Leap

by Matthew Conyers/CHN Reporter

The elite players in Hockey East have names that stand out. Be it first or last, they're easy to remember.

Brock. Van Riemsdyk. Bonino.

By the time the season ends — maybe sooner — there will likely be another name on the list — Viktor; as in Viktor Stalberg of the Vermont Catamounts.

"He’s right up there," Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. "Viktor is certainly not as high-profile as Brock Bradford or James van Riemsdyk, but he has really closed the gap. He has the chance [in the second half] to take it to the next level."

In just three and half months, Stalberg has laid claim to the fact that he not only belongs in that upper echelon of players but already is a card-carrying member. The lighting quick forward is tied for ninth in the conference with eight goals and 10 assists for a points per game average of 1.06.

All this comes six years after Stalberg discovered the world of College Hockey. In early 2004, Stalberg went one of the most beneficial Google searches ever.

"I didn’t have any clue what college hockey was until two years before I came to Vermont," Stalberg said. "I knew some guys that were talking about the college game , so I went online and checked out some video clips."

The native Swede — Stalberg hails from Goethenberg, Sweden — then proceeded to contact various schools across the Atlantic. The offers were there, but only one program set up a decisive visit.

"I had looked at other schools, but it was the visit that got me," Stalberg said.

Stalberg arrived in Burlington the weekend of a big Hockey East homestand against Maine. The Catamounts lost both games but the Swede was hooked.

"It was a great campus and a big hockey school, I loved it," Stalberg said.

Stalberg came to Vermont after spending the 2005-2006 season playing for the Frolunda Indians, where he led his team in scoring with 33 goals and 31 assists. The performance not only caught the eye of the Catamounts but also the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto selected Stalberg in the sixth round at the 161st spot.

"My goal is to play hockey in the future," Stalberg said. "But small things can happen and change everything.

"My education was the biggest thing for me and college was a better choice."

Initially, Stalberg impressed with his speed but there was to be expected a learning curve.

"He’s always been a great player and we were really excited for him to join our family, but he needed time to develop," Sneddon said. "We all hoped it would happen in one year but in reality it takes longer than that."

In his first season, Stalberg had just seven goals and eight assists in 39 games. The sophomore season was an improvement with 10 goals and 13 assists. Still, the breakout year had yet to arrive.

Then came this fall and winter, where he’s nearly topped his season best of 23 points.

"As a player, he has come a long way," Sneddon said. "His speed has always been excellent but he had a lack of overall strength and consistency was one thing he needed working on."

"He came back this year a lot stronger and able to hold the puck. He’s creating a ton of chances and plays ever shift like his last. He’s really decreased times where he is not a factor. He is constantly with the puck now."

The changes have not gone unnoticed by Stalberg either.

"There are a lot of good players in the league, I have the talent to be there, it’s just a matter of working hard enough," Stalberg said. "The biggest thing is finding the consistency. I haven’t had the ups and downs like last year."

But Stalberg also knows the second half of the season brings an even bigger challenge.

"I’m growing as a player and I have a little more confidence," Stalberg said. "I just have to do a good job of responding to the challenge."

Sneddon has already seen teams start to heavily key on Stalberg and he expects the coverage to get only worse as the second half progresses.

"As we move forward, he’s going to play with a lot of traffic," Sneddon. "That’s the real test.

"He has aspirations to be the best and he can. The nice thing is that he is confident, but he has no ego."

That trait is noticeable even as Stalberg talks about his point totals this year.

"I’m well-aware of the stats," Stalberg said. "I’m creating chances so I can be one of those top guns in the league and country.

"But if you start thinking about it, you ruin it for yourself. You just have to keep progressing."

Stalberg does admit the point total could be higher.

"I’m getting the chances," Stalberg said. "There are games were I could have two or three goals. I need to try to find the poise to bare down and score."

And he’s doing this all on team that is 11-4-3 and ranked third in Hockey East.

"There’s no question were on the same level as other teams," Stalberg said. "There’s been a big shift in mentality. We feel like right now we’re doing better focusing and we can skate with the best."

As for the Stalberg story, Sneddon is hoping it has one more chapter left in Burlington.

"We jokingly say we would like him to come back for one more year and work on getting better," Sneddon said.

"He can go as far as he wants to go. He has the ability to handle the mental challenges. He has that advantage over guys."

Still, Stalberg is not quite ready to take that jump and leave his beloved Catamounts behind.

"I’m planning on staying at Vermont," Stalberg said. "That’s where I’m at right now. I’m pretty happy with how the team is progressing and I want to stay and really win something."

Spoken like a player ready to take that step into the one-name pantheon.

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