Things are about to get even busier for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Marcus Ericsson.
In addition to learning the ins and outs of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11 and tackling an oval race for the first time in his NTT IndyCar Series career with the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26, the National Hockey League playoffs ramping up will keep Ericsson busy with his other passion: hockey.
“I follow it a lot. It's super exciting living in North America now to be able to follow the NHL,” Ericsson said. “Hockey is my big passion in life apart from racing.”
Unlike his Arrow SPM teammate James Hinchcliffe, who bleeds the blue and white of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, Ericsson pays closer attention to fellow Swedes playing in the NHL. A fringe benefits of racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and living in Indianapolis – as opposed to his past five years traveling the globe in Formula One – is being close enough to keep abreast of his compatriots' progress. Also, living on this side of the Atlantic cramps his style a bit when it comes to rooting for his truly favorite team.
“The team in my hometown, Örebro HK, plays in the top league in Sweden and I have season tickets, which I barely use but my family does,” he said with a laugh. “But every time I am home, I go to the games.”
One of Ericsson's closer friends is Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who was his guest at the F1 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal last year. The pair caught up again last month when Lindholm visited during the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend (shown at right).
The highest-profile Swedish players still in the NHL playoffs are Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Erik Karlsson for the San Jose Sharks and John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars. Ericsson met Landeskog prior to an Avalanche game in Denver in January, when they exchanged gifts of their "work attire" (see video below).
The Avalanche and Sharks are locked in a Western Conference semifinal matchup with San Jose holding a 2-1 series advantage heading into Game 4 tonight (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN). With the two Swedes squaring off in one series, it guarantees Ericsson will have at least one to cheer on in the next round of the playoffs. The winner of that series could meet Klingberg's Stars, who are knotted at two games apiece with St. Louis in the other Western Conference semifinal.
Ericsson’s hockey hero growing up was perennial all-star Peter Forsberg, who many feel is one of the greatest ever to play the game. Forsberg retired in 2011 with two Stanley Cup titles and two Olympic gold medals to his name.
Ericsson gets his love of hockey honestly, playing the sport in Sweden as a youngster and dreaming of goaltender glory. Now 28, he was no slouch on the ice, patrolling the crease for his town's regional elite team. It’s why he also has a soft spot for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist played five seasons of professional hockey in Sweden before joining the Rangers in 2005. In addition to several team records, he has racked up the most NHL wins by a European goaltender.
“I was a goalie, so Henrik Lundqvist was always a big inspiration for me,” said the No. 7 Arrow SPM Honda driver. “Of course, (former Toronto Maple Leaf) Mats Sundin was also a hero for us Swedes and (retired Detroit Red Wings all-star) Nicklas Lidström. We have so many good players.”
In the end, Ericsson knew he couldn't pursue two sports at the highest level, so racing took precedence.
“I stopped playing hockey because I had to make a decision about what to focus on and I chose racing. I was all right as a goalie, but for sure, I was a better racing driver,” he said.
“They were my two passions and I just felt that racing was my thing, but I still love hockey. I still play every winter with my friends just for fun every now and then. Not as much as I want, but I try to get out on the ice and have some fun.”