Up and down, down and up. Anton Lander’s hockey life in North America has turned into recurrent flight between Edmonton and California. In an interview with hockeysverige.se, he talks about his rough season, the constant travel between the NHL and AHL, the decision to let his wife and son stay in Sweden and the future when his NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers expires.
“I know that my career isn’t over just because I don’t stay over here,” says Lander.
By: Uffe Bodin
Note that the original article was written in Swedish and has been translated into English.
“I don’t know how to describe this season, to be honest…”
Anton Lander sweeps the long sweaty locks of hair from his face and stares thoughtfully at the floor while removing the skates from his feet.
We’re inside the Edmonton Oilers’ spacious dressing room in the brand new Rogers Place, a place most hockey players can only dream of entering. It’s a hockey haven that exudes luxury and optimism. But for Lander, it has become an existence marked by instability and uncertainty. When hockeysverige.se meets the Swede, it’s just 24 hours since he returned to the NHL team after this season’s third assignment to farm team Bakersfield Condors in California. If there is one player who could be likened to a human yo-yo in the NHL, the 25-year-old fits the bill. It’s not the hockey life he’d like to lead at this point of his career.
“There has been a lot of emotions,” Lander continues. ”I’ve been really pissed off. You’re never happy when you get sent down.”
What he has experienced is the flip side of professional hockey in North American. If you can’t hold on to your spot in the line-up, you can quickly turn into a throwaway player. For Lander, this has had consequences for his family, his wife Malin and son Viggo, who turns one year in April.
“Some family stuff happened back home, so my wife and son went back. Then it felt like it was one of those seasons where it’s very much up and down, so we decided it was best if they stayed in Sundsvall,” he explains.
“It makes things a little easier now that it’s like this. I haven’t had to say farewell every time I’ve been sent down. Of course, I miss them, but this solution makes it a little easier.”
Not being able to see your son regularly has to be extra hard when he is so small
“It is incredibly tough indeed. You do some talking over FaceTime, but it is not the same as being there. That’s something that really breaks your heart. Then it’s the time difference (eight hours) that causes some problems. I need to call early in the morning, before practice, to be able to talk. Otherwise, it’s too late, he’ll be sleeping when I get back home after practice.”
“It’s painful, but in the long run, I think it is the best for both my wife and Viggo because there’s so much travel for me this season.”
Anton Lander’s mess of a season has been confusing to follow from a distance. In the NHL, where he has a goal and three assists in 22 games, his performance hasn’t been steady enough to secure a spot on Oilers’ roster. In the AHL, however, he has been on a scoring spree. In the 20 games he has played with Bakersfield, he has 16 goals and 32 points.
“I felt like I had taken a couple of steps forward compared to last season, which was not good at all. And it felt good in the last few games before I was sent down the first time (in November). Perhaps it wasn’t so bad to be sent down either because I got the chance to play more offensively, get a lot of minutes. I thought I found the touch you need to be a threat out there. It was useful,” he says.
“Then I got the chance to come back and it felt good on the line I was playing, but it wasn’t enough. And that’s the way it is sometimes. You may not think it’s fair, but there’s not much you can do about it. Just bite the bullet.”
Lander is in the final year of his contract. The challenging season, combined with the fact the Oilers are gradually making their roster younger, makes a new contract with the team unlikely. He admits that thoughts of leaving North America are crossing his mind.
“Of course you think a lot about that, I would lie if I said anything else. I know that my career isn’t over just because I don’t stay over here. With that said, I’m still focused on being here right now. We have a lot of games left here and a lot can happen. I have to give everything that’s left and then, after the season, we’ll sum everything up and see what will be next.”
Do you ever feel homesick?
“Not really. Of course, you miss stuff back home, but not hockey-wise. You still get a fairly large part of the summer at home in Sweden where you can meet friends and family. But I miss seeing my brother play (Filip Lander, defenseman with Sundsvall Hockey). Stuff like that. But it’s my sixth year over here, so those feelings have diminished, even though home will always be home.
Do you see a future in the SHL?
“As I said, the focus right now is this season. Afterwards, we’ll sum it up, take a look at what the alternatives are and see how I feel. But right now, everything is about Edmonton and going to the playoffs, because it would be awesome to experience that.”
The uncertainty about his position on the team makes it hard for Anton Lander to fully enjoy the success the Oilers are having this season. He says he feels like he’s a part of the team, but perhaps not in the manner he would if he were a regular on the roster.
“It’s the old cliché that you take it day by day. Because I never know where I’ll sleep at night,” he laughs.
That cautious attitude pays off later that same day. Immediately after a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Anton Lander was sent down to the AHL again. For the fourth time this season.