Vancouver Canucks

The Weight of Dreams

...How Elias Pettersson is 'finding strength' from different sources

March 23, 2022

Madeline Craig - @madelinedcraig

Elias Pettersson says that even though he never believed he would achieve his dream of becoming a professional hockey player, he continued to hope for it. He continued to train for it. He kept wanting, perhaps purely out of spite, that distant glory that he could imagine shining on the horizon when he stepped onto the ice in his hometown of Ånge, Sweden.

Like most great things, the dream grew from a place of childlike wonder, as well as childlike boredom. Yes, there was soccer and golf - played with friends and his father - but nothing seemed to capture his heart quite like hockey. Even today, the sport that once brought him so much joy during his childhood still makes him excited on a game-to-game basis.

"It's just the compete," he says. "Playing in front of thousands of people. Friends staying up late and watching, and I'm having so much fun playing."

He laughs when asked about his support system back home. As he describes the late-night (for them) texts saying that they've been watching, the appreciation is written on his face. His friends and family in Sweden are some of his biggest fans, oftentimes staying up until four in the morning just to watch him play.

The way this season started, some may say that supporters could sometimes be few and far between. There seemed to be a constant flow of criticism and doubt from social media. If cheering for someone brings people together, cheering against someone seems to be even more unifying.

But the thing is, Elias Pettersson is his harshest critic. He stays on the ice taking countless faceoffs at the end of morning skate.

"I think that was a big part of my game that wasn't close to where I wanted it to be," he says. "So, I really put a lot of time and effort in that because … I am a centre. But my faceoffs weren't good enough the first two, three seasons. So, I really put a lot of effort in that."

He stays on the ice practicing one-timers far longer than he really has to. He has proven time and time again that he has an amazing shot. But when the world's eyes are on you, and the public is saying that your shot isn't good enough, well, Elias Pettersson works on his shot.

"I always keep working on my shot," he says.

He scores on the one-timer mere hours after saying this on February 19 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Because Elias Pettersson isn't someone who stops working once he's accomplished one thing. There's always something, in his eyes, that he can improve on.

So much pressure is placed upon his shoulders. It's so easy to forget his age. That is, until he asks you what you're taking in university, and you realize that he is young enough to be a university student himself. You realize that he's already so accomplished - and yet still so young.

His kind demeanour when answering these questions is just barely hiding a seriousness that is obviously present in his training. You talk to him, and you can just tell that everything is important to him.

It's only normal that the amount of doubt would feel suffocating sometimes, but his voice is sure when he says, "I use it as fuel."

"Of course, some people gave me some shit this year," he chuckles. "But I mean, I don't blame them."

"I've been doubted that I'm too small my whole career," he adds. "I'm always going to get bashed-on that I'm too skinny and too weak, blah blah blah. But I use it as fuel. I want to - not prove them wrong…"

He thinks for a moment.

"I mean it's not like … I'm playing for them," he continues. "I'm not. But in some ways, I like to prove people wrong."

The beginning of this season in particular was a tough time, and Pettersson says he's learned a lot about "finding strength," and adds that the fans' belief in the team "definitely helps."

He understands that public opinion can't be "the main factor for [him] to work [his] best," however. He has to find the will to play and get better from somewhere internal.

He says there are things to take away from every game. Even the bad ones. There's always something to be worked on and something to be praised. There isn't a single game that doesn't mean something.

"Never thought I would make it, but I always kept dreaming," he says, noting that he chose to pursue hockey simply because it was the sport he had the most fun playing growing up.

In some ways, he still is that kid in Ånge. Still looking straight-on into the sun over the horizon. He seems to draw people into him. Because sitting down with Elias Pettersson you can sense that he's going to do something great. His devotion to his own game and the game as a whole is something inextricably linked to everything he does. Even as he works and grows, he still can't quite fathom the fact that he's made it this far.

"Here I am," he says with an air of disbelief. "Living my dream."