Buffalo Sabres center Johan Larsson is surging on the ice, scoring three goals in a span of five games and embracing his role as the team's shutdown center.
Off the ice, the 23-year-old Swede is a devoted fan of Manchester United, the English Premier League superpower that has captured a record 20 titles. Larsson tries to wake up early to watch weekend matches on TV -- a challenge considering the Sabres usually play on either Friday or Saturday nights -- or at least catch the highlights.
BN Soccer dropped by the Sabres' locker room last week -- before United's calamitous loss to West Brom -- to catch up with two players who can't get enough of English futbol.
Here are several bullet points we learned from talking to Larsson:
*On his favorite Red Devil of all-time:
"When I was younger my favorite player was Ruud van Nistelrooy, which is why I followed Manchester United and watched a lot of games while living in Sweden. I watch them as much as I can now."
*On his own soccer career:
"I played from when I was 5 until 15, so I played my whole life growing up -- I loved it, too. You can only pick one sport and I was kind of more into hockey I guess and then fell in love with hockey, but I was pretty good at soccer, too. I played striker my last few years -- I wanted to score goals."
[An interjection from Zemgus Girgensons, who eavesdropped on the interview with a smirk on his face]
"That's why [Larsson] misses the [hockey] net so much -- he's used to a soccer net."
*On the future of United manager Louis van Gaal and a possible successor:
"I think he's going to get fired after the season -- they've been winning lately though, so you never know...I want to see Mourinho. I think it's his character -- he's been winning a lot. He can bring something to United."
[Another interruption, this time from curious and outspoken goalie Robin Lehner]
"Manchester United? Nah, Manchester United sucks. It's all about Liverpool."
*On Larsson's favorite current Manchester United player:
"I like [Wayne] Rooney -- he's pretty good and still there. It's a lot of new guys."
*On City and United's race for a Champions League berth:
"It's all about Champions League. You want to be in that -- you want to watch that. I hope they can get in -- they have some young good players."
*A sort-of-friendly wager approaches Friday, as United travels to Anfield to take on Liverpool, Rasmus Ristolainen's beloved team, in the Europa League round of 16:
"Now during Europa League we're playing each other, so [Rasmus and I] are going to bet a little money on it. It's going to be interesting -- [Liverpool] is good."
*Has Larsson visited Old Trafford?
"I've never been to England. It's probably something I'll have to do. We have a lot of staff from England here -- but they're Arsenal fans."
*EPL team he hates the most:
"I hate City -- they bought their team. It's shady."
For more on Larsson's performance on the ice, read John Vogl's March 7 piece from BN Hockey.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who agrees that filthy rich teams are a little shady, at email@example.com