Anton Stralman has easily become a fan favorite on the Tampa Bay Lightning with his easy going personality and total dad vibe. Hailed as an advanced stats darling when he came in as a free agent, Stralman has put up some of his best years in the NHL for the Lightning. But before Tampa. Before the NHL and AHL and North America, what did Stralman do? Let’s go back, back in time and take a look.
For Stralman, it all started in Tibro, Sweden, his home town. Tibro is located in South Central Sweden, northeast of Gothenburg and west of Linkoping. He is also the only player from his hometown to be drafted and to play in the NHL. His youth club was Timro IK in his hometown.
In 2002-03, Stralman moved 12 miles away from his hometown to play for Skovde IK. He started with their J20 club in the J20 Elit league at 16 years old. He recorded 20 goals and 29 points in 46 games.
In Stralman’s age 17 year, he played for Skovde IK’s men’s team in Division 1. Division 1 is the third tier of professional hockey in Sweden. In 27 games, he contributed four goals and 12 points. He was fourth among U18 players in Division 1 and first among U18 defenders. He played in 10 games in the Kvalserien AS recording three goals and four points.
The minor leagues in Sweden work differently from minor leagues in North America. Much like soccer around the world, there are a series of qualification and relegation playoffs in each league. The best teams from the lower levels have a chance to move up to a higher league the next season while the worst teams have a chance to move down a league.
Skovde IK finished second in their group and managed to win promotion to Allsvenskan, the second-tier league in Sweden. Stralman remained with Skovde IK for his age 18 season. He managed to score 18 points over 41 games and an additional three points in nine Kvalserien AS games. Unfortunately, Skovde IK were not able to stick in Allsvenskan and were relegated back to Division 1.
In addition, Stralman played in 22 international games for Team Sweden. In four games with the U19 group, he put up three assists. He played in 13 showcase games with the U20 team and had a goal and an assist. He was selected for the U20 World Junior Championships and was scoreless in five games in the tournament.
After the 2004-05 season, with Skovde IK moving back down to Division 1, Stralman signed with Timra IK some 370 miles up the coast from Skovde. With Timra, Stralman was able to play in the SHL, Sweden’s top league. In 45 games, he scored a goal and five points. Stralman played in three playoff games for Timra’s U20 team in the SuperElit league and was scoreless. That year’s U20 group in the SHL had some interesting names that would later be seen in the NHL: Nicklas Backstrom, Anze Kopitar, Patric Hornqvist, and Mattias Ritola.
Stralman again played internationally with Team Sweden at the U20 level. He had three assists in 12 showcase games, and had a single assist in six games at the U20 World Junior Championship.
In 2006-07, Stralman would choose to remain in Sweden for another year with Timra IK. He spent the whole season with Timra and scored ten goals and 21 points over 53 games. Timra also qualified for the playoffs and Stralman added four points in seven games. Following the season, Stralman was selected to play at the World Championship for Team Sweden recording a goal and an assist in nine games.
After his breakout season with Timra, Stralman signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and began his North American career. While he has not played in a Swedish professional league since then, choosing not to play during the 2012-13 lockout, he has represented Team Sweden on multiple occasions since then.
He played in the World Championship in 2007-08 with four goals and seven points in eight games. He again returned for the World Championship in 2008-09 with a goal and five points in seven games. There he earned his first medal in an international tournament earning a Bronze.
Stralman would go eight seasons without playing internationally with Team Sweden. Some of it was due to his health, but a lot of it was due to playing deep into the playoffs with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2016-17, he returned to international play for Team Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey. He had a goal and an assist in four games as Team Sweden lost in the semi-finals and finished third.
Following a disappointing playoff miss for the Lightning, Stralman went to the World Championships once again for Team Sweden. Stralman contributed four assists over ten games in the tournament. Joined by his Lightning teammate Victor Hedman, the Swedes triumphed at the World Championships, winning a gold medal. It was the first time Stralman had ever won a championship of any kind in professional hockey, and spawned one of the best Joe Smith columns we’ve read. As Stralman told Joe:
“It's amazing ... It's awesome. From being a real (expletive) loser to finally be a champ," Stralman told hockeysverige.se, translated to English by Jim Hallberg. "It feels fantastic. Now I’m no longer a (expletive) loser. I feel proud of the guys, how we played, how we came together as a team and the joy we had together. It does not get better than this and that's why we stand here with the gold medal.”