The former Charlottetown Islanders centre will suit up for the UPEI Panthers this season after playing in the United States Hockey League (USHL) a year ago.
“I love Charlottetown, that's why I’m going back there,” he said Friday from Sweden.
Rydstrom talked with Panthers bench boss Forbes MacPherson two years ago during his second season with the Islanders. Charlottetown decided not to bring him back a year ago, not because of his play, but because he would have counted as one of the team’s three overage players and two European imports.
MacPherson reached out again this year and it didn't take long for Rydstrom to jump on board.
“Back home, there’s nothing like playing university hockey on that level,” Rydstrom said. “When he called me at the beginning of this summer, I just knew right away that this was what I wanted to do.”
It shows the importance of building and maintaining relationships, even when players don’t commit right away to a university program. The Panthers have had a few similar stories in recent seasons.
“You can’t close a book on anyone, and that’s sort of our strategy and philosophy here,” MacPherson said. “You realize quickly, when it comes to university, everyone is on a different timeline. . .
“We’ve been fortunate, at times, where kind of the wagon has circled back and they end up at UPEI.”
MacPherson said the first thing that attracted him to Rydstrom was his size.
“He’s a big body that plays centre ice. Those are not easy to find, especially at the U Sports level,” he said, and “he has a very high level of compete.”
One of Rydstrom’s former coaches described the pivot as a survivor to the UPEI head coach.
“He has fought for everything he’s received,” said MacPherson, noting Rydstrom left home at an early age and has continued to improve while handling a new language and culture.
Troy and Joanna MacKenzie were his billet family for his two years in Charlottetown and became a second family for Rydstrom.
“The way they treated me is something I will always be grateful for and I’m really excited to see them again,” Rydstrom said.
Rydstrom said he became stronger and faster during the past year, but fans can expect the same kind of player they remember from his days in the black and gold jersey of the Islanders.
“I’m still the two-way centre I’ve always been and that's the way I want to play hockey because I think that’s the right way,” he said.
Rydstrom became a physical force in his rookie season when teamed with linemates Ross Johnston and Oliver Cooper.
So what happens when the Panthers play the UNB Varsity Reds and Cooper has the puck in the corner?
“He’s probably one of the best (people) I’ve played with,” Rydstrom said. “It will be fun. I’m excited to play against him. I think we’ll probably have a couple of heated moments, but, at the end of the day, it’s just hockey.”
Need to know
Who – A 21-year-old centre who will play for the UPEI Panthers this hockey season. He played two seasons with the Charlottetown Islanders before captaining the Omaha Lancers in the USHL a year ago.
Hometown – Vallentuna, Sweden.
Size – Six-foot-three, 210 pounds.
Season Team League GP G A Pts. PIM
2016-17 Omaha USHL 51 10 24 34 186
2015-16 Charlottetown QMJHL 68 21 26 47 67
2014-15 Charlottetown QMJHL 50 8 12 20 38
Rydstrom said: “To come back to Charlottetown, it feels unreal.”
Rydstrom on watching university hockey in P.E.I.: “It was tough hockey, and I think that’s the way you should play hockey. Hockey is a physical game, and I like to play that way, so I think it will fit me good.”
Rydstrom on playing with former captain Ryan MacKinnon again: “Seeing Ryan MacKinnon’s work ethic and the way he (handled himself) in and around the rink (helped me). He’s just a leader by example and that's what you want as a captain.”
A look at the UPEI Panthers men’s hockey team recruiting class for the upcoming season. The players will hit the ice for the first time on Sept. 1.
Matthew Mancina, Mississauga (OHL), Tecumseh, Ont., 21.
Daryl MacCallum, Amherst Ramblers (MHL), Charlottetown, 21.
Alex McQuaid, Summerside Capitals (MHL), Meadowbank, 21.
Tanner McCabe, Summerside Capitals (MHL), Cornwall, 20.
Olivier Arsenau, Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL), Tracadie-Sheila, N.B., 21.
Nathan Yetman, Summerside Capitals (MHL), Mount Pearl, N.L., 21.
Filip Rydstrom, Omaha (USHL), Vallentuna, Sweden, 21.