Freshman forward Alva Johnsson brings a queen’s ransom of intangibles to the Long Island Sharks Women’s Hockey program. In their inaugural season of NCAA Division I play under head coach Rob Morgan, the Swedish Johnsson is not only one of her team’s captains but is also their most complete player.
She has the speed and the hands around the net. She has the size – 5-foot-11 and over 160 pounds – and can play either center or wing. Her hockey sense is keen in every way imaginable. Johnsson’s character is cut from the finest cloth. She is reserved but friendly, and when Johnsson speaks you naturally want to listen intently. The kind of teammate her fellow Sharks would go to battle for in a heartbeat.
One would think that Morgan hit the jackpot when Johnsson accepted the opportunity to play for the Sharks. As it turns out, he had done his due diligence and scouted her well in advance.
“He had watched me at the Women’s World U18s when I played in 2017,” Johnsson shared. “He watched me play there and he was interested in me. I had decided that I wanted to go to college because education is really important to me. To play a really high level of hockey and to get the education was the best option. To get both combined, it’s hard to do that in Sweden. That’s why I wanted to come here. I talked to Coach Rob a lot, and I really liked his vision. It felt right to come here.”
Johnsson’s SDHL Experience Back Home
In addition to playing for her country’s U18 squad, Johnsson has been playing against grown women in the SDHL (Svenska damhockeyligan) since she was 16 years old. A native of Stockholm, Sweden, she initially played for her hometown club AIK in 2015-16. From there Johnsson suited up for SDE HF for a season, before finding her niche with Leksands IF.
“I obviously took a gap year after I graduated from high school because I wanted to stay in Sweden,” explained Johnsson. “I got some offers and I talked to other NCAA schools, but they wanted me to come right away after I graduated. I already had moved around a lot. I had played in Stockholm, then I moved up to Leksands and I played there. I really liked the environment that I had in Leksands. I had all of the opportunity to really develop as a player and I wanted to stay there one more year.”
Johnsson’s most recent SDHL season was 2018-19 when she played 35 regular season games for Leksands. She would go 6-4-10 in scoring while compiling 48 penalty minutes. Just 20 years old at the time, some of her teammates this past season included veterans Anna Borgqvist (27 years old), Danielle Stone (29), Sofia Engström (31) and Hanna Lindqvist (28).
Between Johnsson’s four SDHL seasons across three teams, she totaled 10 goals, seven assists and 17 points in 118 regular season games. Her 125 career PIMs speak to her preference for robust play. More than points or penalty minutes though, she believes that her SDHL experience better prepared her for her NCAA career.
“My experience playing in the highest league in Sweden is something I have with me now,” she said. “The hockey experience, and how I developed as a person in Sweden. Getting all of that experience in the highest league has helped me here – both to be an influential player on the ice, and to be a leader for the team off the ice.”
Improving Her Scoring for Long Island
Johnsson is one of three Swedes playing for the Sharks this season, and one of four Scandinavians. She is joined by fellow countrywomen Matilda af Bjur and Paula Bergström, and Danish defender Linn Thomsen.
Johnsson has played in each of Long Island’s first 23 games this season, and is one of seven players on the team who have already reached double digits in points (8-4-12). Her eight goals at the time of her interview are tied with af Bjur for second on the team behind Carrigan Umpherville’s nine.
Much of Johnsson’s offensive prowess stems from her field of vision and her ability to to generate turnovers. Her 40 blocked shots are the most on the entire team, and a full nine more than the next closest Shark.
“I am big and I’m not afraid to play physical,” Johnsson said. “I love the physical part of the game. I am fast, and I have good vision. I know a lot about hockey and I’m a smart player. I think that I can really use that to make my teammates better, and use my speed and my skills to try to create opportunities. I’m good at taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes. I’m good at positioning in the game.”
It is not surprising to know that Johnsson is one of the Sharks three captains for this first season. The coaching staff of Morgan, Nicole Renault and Sam Faber clearly recognize her immense value to their team on the ice and in the locker room. A “C” on her sweater is not something that Johnsson views lightly.
“It means a lot – it’s an honor,” she said. “It’s fun to be a part of starting up this new program. Then on top of that to be one of the leaders and one of the captains is a big honor. I’ve always been a natural leader in a group. It feels really good that I have the same vision as Coach (Rob), and that he appreciates me being a leader too. This is the inaugural season, so it’s a historical year. It’s really cool to be a part of it and to have a big role in it.”
Learning From One of Women’s Hockey’s Very Best
“Alva has provided the necessary leadership for our young team to grow over time,” said Morgan. “Her commitment level and compete level is exceptionally high, and with that she’s helped set and maintain team expectations. Alva is determined to help us achieve our program goals while at the same time accomplish her individual goals – especially the one of playing for her National Team at future World Championships and Olympic Games. What also impresses me most is that she’s an outstanding student who prides herself in doing A grade work.”
Speaking to her coachability, Johnsson is a player that constantly wishes to hone her craft and is continuously looking to improve. There is a likelihood that she will eclipse at least 20 points in each of her next three seasons with the Sharks. With six games remaining in 2019-20 and this being only her freshman campaign, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Johnson could be a 100-point scorer by the end of her NCAA career.
Which brings us back to Coach Faber. An original member of the Connecticut Whale, Sam Faber is very much a women’s hockey legend in her own right. She scored 189 points (77G, 112A) in just 133 NCAA games during her own career at the University of New Hampshire, and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2008 Women’s World Championships.
Johnsson realizes that Faber is a coach that can genuinely help her to develop her scoring touch and take it to new levels. She relishes the opportunity to have such an accomplished former player at her side.
“It’s been amazing,” said Johnsson. “I really look up to Sam a lot, and she’s really inspirational for me. She’s helping me so much. She’s always there for me both on and off the ice. I can always talk to her. I really want to develop my offensive skills. Scoring more goals and making more points. She’s the most perfect player that I can talk to and get help from. She’s really good at the details in the game, and helping me with specific situations in the game. We have a really good communication together. I really appreciate getting feedback from her.”
Three of Johnsson’s goals came as a hat-trick on Nov. 16, 2019 against Post University. We strongly doubt it will be the last “HT” of her career.
Looking at the Bigger Picture
Johnsson is remarkably proud to be an original Shark and being part of her school’s history. She is looking forward to her three more years at LIU, and making significant strides from season to season. Johnsson recognizes that for many of her teammates – herself included – achieving an NCAA career is a dream come true.
“I know that Division I college hockey is a really big thing in the USA,” explained Johnsson. “For most of the girls that are here, this is one of the biggest chances and opportunities that they will have in their careers. This is the thing that they’ve been working towards. For me, I am very, very grateful to be here and this is what I thought was really going to develop me.”
Having said that, Johnsson also believes that her time at Long Island is a necessary step in vaulting her career onward – both in her native Sweden, as well as her international career. The tutelage she is receiving at Long Island as a player and as a student is something Johnsson feels is preparing her to achieve her ultimate success.
“The NCAA was the next step for me in my game but I have higher goals still,” she said. “I don’t feel like this is the end of my career. I feel like this is just the pathway for me to come back to Sweden and be one of the leading players in the SDHL.”
“I feel like this is a good environment for me to really develop to be able to compete and take a place on the Swedish National Team both for the Worlds and for the Olympics coming up. I feel like I am getting all of the necessary time on the ice and off the ice, and the help from the coaches – they really see the potential in me. They’re really helping me to reach my goals.”
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.