Viktor Fasth’s day job distracted him from a hockey career that hadn’t progressed as quickly as he sometimes wanted.
Fasth taught autistic high school students in his native Sweden, a profession that gave the rookie Anaheim Ducks goaltender — who signed a two-year extension last week — not only free nights to pursue his dreams but also perspective.
“You kind of forgot about hockey in the daytime,” Fasth said. “You didn’t think about hockey the whole day. I got to interact with a lot of people who were not in hockey.”
This was in 2010, before Fasth made the jump to the Swedish Elite League and then to the Swedish national team — all that got the notice of Ducks scouts. It came after nearly a decade in his country’s minor league hockey system.
“Hockey is really fun, as long as you are developing,” Fasth said. “The day you think that you are done developing your game, that’s the time you start wondering if you should continue.”
The Ducks saw something in him and signed the late-bloomer to one-year, $1 million contract in May. Two months later Fasth, now 30, found himself surrounded by players 10 years junior at the team’s development camp.
“I thought it’d be a great opportunity to be here on the ice with the guys,” Fasth said. “It was pretty much my first practice on an NHL rink. It was good that I did that. It helped me get adjusted a bit faster, I think.”
Move ahead — past the lockout that shrank the NHL’s schedule to 48 games — and Fasth has become not only a solid backup to Ducks starting goalie Jonas Hiller, but Fasth has become part of, arguably, the best goalie combo in the league. The Ducks are second in Western Conference, and in the entire NHL, at 13-3-1.
“For the most part, the coach can’t screw it up and make the wrong decision,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If one is going in to play, you can count on him to be good. Until that changes, we’ll play them pretty equal amounts.”
Fasth joined Ray Emery and Bob Froese as the only goalies in league history to win their first eight or more decisions. A 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday ended that longest season-opening win streak since Tim Thomas — who went 8-0-0 for the Boston Bruins in 2010.
The other side of the tandem is hardly a slouch, even if durability issues have cropped up in recent seasons. Hiller is former All-Star and ranks fifth among active goalies with a .917 save percentage.
The two goalies’ lockers are side by side in the locker room, and there’s no sign of any tumult as they split time in the crease.
“Jonas is a great guy,” Fasth said. “I learned a lot from him. I think we have a good time together.”
Added Boudreau: “Both of them are very quiet. They do their jobs and leave. Even at the rink here, they are pretty focused men. They’ll talk. They aren’t monks or anything. They are just not the star attraction in the room.”
Splitting goalie duties isn’t new to either Boudreau or the Ducks. Boudreau rarely had a clear No. 1 goalie in his first stint as an NHL head coach in Washington as he rotated among goalies such as Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
The Ducks often swapped goalies Jean Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov en route to their 2006-07 Stanley Cup title.
“It’s nice,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, a member of that championship team. “Anytime you have two goalies of that caliber, it’s great to see them both be able to play. That’s one thing we had in the past and have now. These goalies are there to support each other.”
Fasth said it’s been nice to focus on hockey the last three years, even if he misses teaching at times. The critical leap wasn’t to the NHL this season. It was before the 2006-07 season while he was still an educator.
“If I didn’t make that step up to the third league from the second league in Sweden, I’m not sure I’d still be playing,” Fasth said.