Djurgårdens IF goaltender Lovisa Berndtsson is one of the most humble athletes you could ever hope to meet. The SDHL champion will turn 31 years old on Dec. 9, 2019. Her sense of self-deprecation had her a little surprised when THW asked her for an interview.
“I am so happy you want to do this article,” Berndtsson said, “and I can’t really get why you are writing about me. Because I have never seen myself as (being) that good or having such an impact on someone.”
And that is exactly why Berndtsson does have an impact on others. Firstly, she is a far better goaltender than what she gives herself credit for. And secondly, she puts her teammates and others ahead of herself all the time.
A kind soul, who just so happens to have the skill to have represented Sweden in an IIHF Women’s World Championship in 2017 and to have backstopped Djurgårdens to a title that same year.
Stockholm Hockey Roots
Djurgårdens is based in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm. The sports club itself has existed since 1891, though its women’s hockey team came much, much later. Stockholm is also Berndtsson’s hometown.
Like many hockey players who have made it to the professional level, she hails from a “hockey family”.
“It’s actually a funny story that starts with both my older brothers playing hockey,” Berndtsson recalled with a grin, when asked how her career began. “At that time, I hated going to the rink when my brothers had practice. Then Haninge HC came to our school and handed out flyers about ‘Hockeyschool’ where you could learn how to skate and start playing hockey. I went home to my mom and told her I wanted to try, and she didn’t believe I was serious about it. But here I am – still playing after 24 years.”
Berndtsson learned positional play first and some of the hockey basics before she ever donned a set of pads. Eventually she transitioned to her more familiar role of goaltender. Berndtsson grew accustomed to – and still enjoys the sensation of – how her position coincides with a state of hanging in the balance.
“At first you could only be a skater, but I started playing goalie pretty early,” she remembered. “At that time I played both goalie and skater, but I always liked goalie more. I think it’s because I like the feeling of being the team’s last outpost. You can either be the hero or the scapegoat, and I like that feeling, as weird as it may sound.”
Keeping Calm Under Pressure
The 2019-20 season is Berndtsson’s eighth in the SDHL (Svenska damhockeyligan) and her fifth straight for Djurgårdens. Standing at 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, she has been a starting goaltender since the 2015-16 season – her first with the team.
Berndtsson uses more of a strong mental game and quickness to stop pucks. That is opposed to an approach a larger goalie might take by simply blocking shots aside using a bigger body. She is not easily rattled, and that is one of her finer characteristics.
“I’m a very calm goalie that plays a lot on positioning,” Berndtsson explained. “I have developed my reactive style of play, but I focus hard on having the right positioning and then reacting from there. I have good technique that helps me come gathered to most situations.”
Berndtsson also feels that sound play in net brings forth a confidence that then permeates throughout the rest of the Djurgårdens team. She is the eldest player on the 2019-20 roster, and in a number of instances, is nearly twice the age of her teammates. Berndtsson takes the “veteran leader” role very seriously.
“I want to give security to my teammates so they have trust in me when I play,” she explained. “I also want to be a leader – both on the ice and off the ice. To sum it up, I would say that my strongest attributes are that I am very calm in net, and that I compete both in practices and games.”
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
It is easy for her Djurgårdens squad to remain reassured when their goalie puts forth the numbers that Berndtsson has.
Her goals-against averages have been within the top-5 for SDHL goalies (those playing at least 15 games) since the 2016-17 season. Berndtsson’s save percentages have yet to fall below a .915 since she has been with the team.
Those are performances she has given blood, sweat and tears to achieve. She has come a long way.
In her three prior SDHL seasons before that – one each with Segeltorps IF, AIK, and SDE HF – Berndtsson’s numbers were never better than a modest 2.33 GAA through eight games (2013-14 with AIK) and a .898 SV% (2014-15 with SDE). At her worst, she had a season where she sported a 5.03 GAA and one with a .818 SV%.
But she was at her absolute finest during the 2016-17 season. Keenly focused, Berndtsson won 17 of the 27 games she played in, accounting for well more than half of her team’s 26 wins. Those victories saw her earn a stingy 1.77 GAA (third best in the league), and a staggering .940 SV% which was ever so shy from being an SDHL best.
Those numbers are all the more impressive when one realizes the effort that Berndtsson imbued off the ice to generate such a successful campaign.
“I actually took help during the 2016-17 season with some mental training,” she candidly explained. “I had a hard time putting bad games behind me. They stayed on my mind for a long time and it affected my game. So I got help. Mostly with exercises that helped me switch my focus. I still use these tips, and have learned to see that hockey isn’t everything. If you (have) a bad game, it’s not the end of the world.”
Culmination Into a Championship
2016-17 did not just end with regular season success for Berndtsson alone. It proved to be fruitful for Djurgårdens as a whole, and ultimately culminated into a championship.
Tina Enström (8-28-36 in 34 games) led the club in points. Hanna Olsson was the top goal scorer with 18 tallies in 29 games. Julia Johansson (4-4-8) and Solveig Neunzert (2-6-8) were the highest scorers among Djurgårdens’ blueliners. Berndtsson anchored the rise in goal, with help from Agnes Åker and Anna Ågren. All of the other players filled roles and provided support as well.
“The year we won was unbelievable,” Berndtsson said with a golden smile. “Nobody thought we were going to win, except us. Our season didn’t start the way we wanted it, and we had some rough patches, but as the season proceeded we started coming together more and more as a team, and we became a really strong unit.”
Having gone 23-6-3-4, the team finished second in the 2016-17 SDHL standings behind Luleå HF/MSSK. Djurgårdens scored 71 less goals than the first place Luleå, but gave up 21 more. It mattered not once the postseason began.
“We managed to take second place in the standings,” Berndtsson explained, “and I think that was important because it gave us home advantage through the entire playoffs.”
A Playoff Performance for the Ages
Berndtsson was simply lights-out in the playoffs, and was easily the SDHL’s best goaltender. She led all netminders in games played (7), wins (6), and shutouts (3). Her phenomenal goals against average of 0.98 was also a top mark in the league, while her .958 SV% was not far behind either. Berndtsson pitched a shutout in each round of the playoffs, while she and Djurgårdens swept their opponents in both the quarterfinals and the final.
All of that coming from a goalie who does not consider herself anything to write home about.
Be that as it may, Berndtsson is deeply proud of what Djurgårdens accomplished that season.
“It’s always hard to win a championship,” she recalled, “but I felt that when we won the first semi-final away against Linköping, that we had what it takes. That championship win meant a lot to me, and it still does. It’s kind of cool to look back and know that you will always be a Swedish Champion, even when you don’t play anymore. But it was also so powerful the way we won – as I said, nobody thought we were going to win – except us!”
Finding Her Niche With Djurgårdens
Fast-forward to the present moment, and Berndtsson is in the early beginnings of the 2019-20 SDHL season. Only eight members of the 2016-17 squad are still with the team. A different SDHL superstar in Jennifer Wakefield has now joined the team, while a budding new phenom in 16-year-old Lova Blom is already generating quite a stir.
For Berndtsson, even with plenty of new faces, this team is home and where she belongs. As a goaltender especially, Djurgårdens has provided her with the necessary tutelage to where she is still growing and meeting new challenges – even as a seasoned veteran.
Berndtsson explained in detail:
“Ever since I came to Djurgården I’ve had good goalie coaches that have helped me. And also, I’ve always had coaches that have shown trust in me. I think that has been the biggest difference from the other teams that I have played on. When I feel that the coaches and my teammates trust in me, I can relax more and just play my game.”
She went on to say, “The first four years I got the opportunity to work with the goalie coach for the men’s team, Janne Öhman, who I had worked with for several years before I came to Djurgården. He has always been there to support me and wanting to help me develop, even if we haven’t been on the same club.”
Life Lessons From Hockey
Most oftentimes the way we envision life to pan out does not take shape. It is really no different when it comes to hockey either.
Some players go 20 years without a championship, while others win one as a rookie. A highly sought after job does not always fall into one’s hands no matter how earnestly a person strives for it, while a newcomer might earn a promotion right off the bat. Injuries and illnesses happen, and missed opportunities often abound.
But, that does not mean that we should despair or lose our determination if things do not go as planned.
As Berndtsson stated, no one expected Djurgården to walk away as SDHL champions in 2016-17. Unlike most National Team players, she also did not receive her first taste of IIHF competition until much later in her career. Berndtsson never even had an opportunity to play for Sweden at the U18 level.
Eventually however, she became a champion, followed by being a wearer of the Damkronorna jersey. She never stopped striving for either. Point being, life and its important matters happen as they are meant to and hard work eventually pays off.
“I think hockey has taught me a lot about never giving up,” Berndtsson shared. “I won the Swedish Championship and made my National Team debut when I was 27. Keep working hard and follow your dreams, and amazing things can happen.”