Martin Dahlin and his wife, Asa, never really talked about this at home with their son, Rasmus. But for some time, the Dahlin family knew they would be sitting here, in a hockey rink someplace in North America, watching Rasmus play.
That someplace became Buffalo late last month, when the Sabres used the first overall pick in the National Hockey League entry draft to select Rasmus, an 18-year-old Swedish hockey star projected to be the best defenseman of his generation. That brought the Dahlin family to Buffalo, where Rasmus was introduced as a Sabre in a June 25 press conference, then participated in the team's four-day developmental camp.
Each day, upwards of a couple thousand fans sat in the stands at HarborCenter, most of them eager to watch Rasmus. Among them was the Dahin family: Martin, who is a "hockeykonsulent" – or hockey instructor – in Sweden, and also an assistant coach for his country's under-18 national team; his wife, Asa; their 20-year-old son, Felix; and 13-year-old daughter, Ella. On the final day of camp, as his son and the other Sabres prospects competed in a 3-on-3 tournament, the Buffalo News sat with Martin. We talked about the family's introduction to Buffalo, Martin and Asa's role as soon-to-be NHL parents, and the family's plan for making sure Rasmus has support while living an ocean away.
Here’s our conversation, editing for length and clarity. (And if you like tacos, be sure to read to the end.)
What has this week been like?
Dahlin: It’s been fantastic. It’s kind of overwhelming. Everybody here is so nice. We really feel – especially Rasmus, but also we as his family – everybody has been treating us so well since we arrived here. Everybody has been so — I’m trying to find the words.
(Dahlin turns to Felix and has a quick exchange in Swedish.)
Felix Dahlin, to his father: Welcoming?
Martin Dahlin: Yeah, welcoming. It’s been great. A great week.
You’re flying home to Sweden tonight. What is next?
Dahlin: We will be together as a family, in our house, until Rasmus will fly back here in the beginning of August. So he will be home training all summer.
At the draft in Dallas, Mrs. Dahlin said that she would be moving here with Rasmus. Is that still the plan?
Dahlin: When he comes back, Asa is coming with him. We haven’t decided how long she will stay. It’s new things happening, and he’ll have a parent to live with him.
As a parent, what is it like for you to know your son will be moving to North America, and he likely won’t be moving back home for a long time?
Dahlin: We’ve been talking about that in our family. Of course we will miss Rasmus, but we will try to come here as often as we can. We’re planning on flying over lots of times during the season. But at the same time, we’re also happy for Rasmus because he’s living his dream. To move to Buffalo and to play hockey here, we’re so happy for him. It’s what he wants to do.
At what point did you realize that Rasmus was almost certainly bound for the NHL?
Dahlin: We never talked like, “When you go...” We don’t talk hockey like that at home. What happens in our country, we say, “Take one day at a time.” That’s what Rasmus has been doing, and we’ve been doing as a family. He moved from home to Göteborg (Sweden) to start playing for Frölunda, and we took one day at a time, one season at a time, and we never really talked about the NHL. It’s been a dream for him, so it’s more like take one day at a time, work hard, and if he works hard, good things can happen.
Of course when we came to Buffalo on this trip, we started to see that there will be a chance for him to play. But, he knows that at the same time, it’s important that he has so much hard work in front of him. He needs to work hard to play for the Buffalo Sabres. That’s for sure, he knows that.
How do you view your role for him going forward?
Dahlin: Support him. He has so much focus on hockey here, and his development, and all those things around hockey. So we are trying to be parents. Actually, we don’t talk hockey that much at home anymore. We used to do it when they were kids, but now we choose to focus on other things around Rasmus when we’re home. Because he needs other things.
What are some of those other things?
Dahlin: When we’re home, we talk about regular things that have happened, like going to buy clothes, or we need to fix something in his apartment. Always regular, timely stuff that goes around like in every family.
So he already knows what it’s like to take care of things around an apartment, right?
Dahlin: He’s been living alone for three years. He moved from home when he was 15. He lived alone, but especially in the first year, we were there every week, a couple of times every week. It’s not so far. (Note: Rasmus Dahlin’s Swedish hockey team, the Frölunda Indians, plays 90 minutes from his hometown.) So if anything happened, if he needed help with anything, we just drove there.
Guessing that Rasmus is a pretty good cook, then. True?
Dahlin (laughing): Ask him, he’s very good.
How about if I ask you?
Dahlin: Yeah, but he can improve.
What are his specialties?
Dahlin: He makes macaroni and meatballs. And he makes tacos. He’s actually good at tacos. I like that, when he makes the tacos when we come.