KARLSTAD, Sweden — Take a trip to Jonas Brodin’s childhood home, and it’s a bit of an adventure.
The charming town of Karlstad — hugged by the country’s largest lake Vänern — is a three-hour train ride from Stockholm. It’s rich in hockey history, with the home club Färjestad BK having won 10 Swedish Hockey League titles. Brodin, 30, was part of one of those championship teams. He’s got a lakehouse in town, and spends every offseason fishing and training there with Wild teammate Joel Eriksson Ek. But Brodin, the veteran defenseman, actually grew up about 25 minutes northwest of here. You need to take a freeway and then some tree-lined side roads, passing by hundreds of acres of farmland. You are greeted by horses along the way.
It feels like the middle of nowhere, which is fitting for Brodin.
“Jonas loves to be in the shadows,” said Sanny Lindström, a friend and former teammate.
“People don’t know too much about ‘Jimmy,’” said best friend Matt Dumba.
“He’s hiding,” joked childhood coach Thomas Froberg said.
Think about it. Brodin has been with the Wild for 12 seasons, with captain Jared Spurgeon the only defenseman to play more games for the franchise. He’s one of the better defensive defensemen in the league. But he flies under the radar among fellow Swedish defensemen like Erik Karlsson or Victor Hedman, who have a much more public presence. Brodin is quiet, humble, not one to seek attention, so it can be easy to just leave it there.
But in spending time in Brodin’s hometown, his family, friends and former teammates paint a more colorful picture.
Brodin’s home sits at the end of the street and it stands out for a couple of reasons.
The gray siding of the single-story ranch home in Edsvallen is unique in a neighborhood of red ones. And it’s located the closest to what’s best described as the perfect playground for a sports enthusiast. Around 100 yards through some brush and trees lies an outdoor hockey rink, with a few basketball hoops set up for the summer. There are tennis courts, and a huge soccer field, where Brodin spent most of his time as a kid.
His father, Stefan, an engineer, was his coach. A beaten-up net on the side of the house looked like it had plenty of double use with a soccer ball still in it.
“I played even more soccer,” Brodin said. “Floorball is a big thing in Sweden. I actually quit hockey when I was younger, when I was maybe eight or nine. When I was 14, I had to pick one of them, and I picked hockey.”
Obviously a good decision, but not an easy one.
“He was so good in futbol,” Froberg said. “He could have played high up in that league. Many Swedish hockey players go to camps in the summer, those selection camps. Jonas never did that. He played futbol.”
“He was good in soccer, tennis, track and field,” his mother, Kristina said. “Everything.”
But it wasn’t too long before the Swedish hockey world realized where Brodin’s future would be in. Brodin was on a star-studded, 1993-born youth team with good friend Oscar Klefbom and Jacob De La Rose. They won a national tournament.
“We were like really known around Sweden,” Brodin said, smiling. “That team was famous around Sweden. We had Klefbom, De La Rose. Won a big trophy. It was special.”
Brodin’s big break came as a 16-year-old when he got called up to play for Färjestad. It was the big, pro team in town, with some of his teammates nearly double his age.
But Brodin was so good that coaches felt they had to play him, even as a seventh defenseman.
“There was a buzz around him,” said Lindström, who was 30 at the time. “He was so skinny and small. But when he came in he was so good you could see right away, like, ‘Oh my god, he’s the real deal.’
“You couldn’t put pressure on him. He’d pass you the puck with perfect timing. You couldn’t hit him. He was so, so smart. He didn’t realize how good he was.”
Brodin was the most humble player Lindström had ever been around. The veteran defenseman joked he got mad at Brodin during the season. Brodin would make a great play, then look to the bench as if he needed to come off for a change. “I told him, ‘Stop looking at the bench, join the rush,’” Lindstrom said. “‘We’ll play our minutes, don’t worry about that.’”
When the team would return from a road game, at roughly 2 or 3 a.m., Brodin’s dad would always be waiting for him. His father still stays up in the middle of the night to watch all of Brodin’s Wild games live. “He’ll watch, sleep 2-3 hours then go to work,” Brodin’s mother, Kristina said. “Every game.”
But Lindström felt it was unnecessary for Stefan to drive a half hour at that time at night, so he offered a spare bedroom for Jonas after road trips. The first time, Brodin slept downstairs in the basement. Lindstrom left that morning to drop their kids off at daycare.
“The shy guy (Brodin) is, he comes up from the basement and scares the (s—) out of my wife,” Lindström said, laughing. “She has no clue who he is.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Jonas,” he whispered. “A teammate.”
“Okay,” she said. “We’ll fix you breakfast.”
Färjestad won the SHL title in his first full season with Brodin, who played in 14 playoff games, scoring two goals.
“He doesn’t make a lot of noise about himself,” said Rickard Wallin, a Färjestad teammate and current GM who played for the Wild. “But you could see then what stands out now — he makes the right decisions and makes everything look so easy and smooth. He has that sense of feel for everything you can’t teach. We had a lot of injuries and he played a lot during the regular season and had an impact in the playoffs, scoring a huge goal in the finals on the road, tying up the game and we won in OT. To make a play in that situation at 16, that’s special. He didn’t make it seem like a big deal. But when you think back, it’s just crazy.”
Brodin went right from the SHL title to representing Sweden in the Under-18 World Championships, where he’d win a silver medal. But not before he was at least part of the team’s celebration. The group would eventually be revealed by the town of Karlstad in the town square for a big party. The team had their own private, informal celebration at a bar after the win, and snuck the 17-year-old Brodin in.
His eyes were wide. His smile was big. But he fit in.
“With the same ease, he made it look natural,” Wallin said. “Even though he wasn’t supposed to be there.”
When the Wild had their rookie party in Vancouver during the 2012-13 season, the kids had an option.
They could sing a song. They could tell a joke or a story. Many guys would just pick a fun karaoke-type song, a sing-a-long, and roll with it.
Teammates wondered what Brodin would do. He didn’t speak much English. He was very quiet, shy.
Brodin stood up and sang the Swedish national anthem.
Most teammates couldn’t understand it. Many laughed — it was so Brodin to surprise them.
“He’s honestly one of the funnier guys I’ve ever played with,” said former Wild forward Jason Zucker. “He’s typically one of the quieter guys. He always has those one-liners and great jokes. He’d keep to himself, then he’d throw out a joke out of left field that makes everyone lose their mind.”
Brodin said Dumba really helped him out during his transition. They were roommates as young players, with their differing personalities connecting. They’d talk about music, with Brodin introducing Dumba to his Swedish mafia favorites. Dumba got Brodin into rap. They both loved the hip-hop group Rae Sremmurd. That’s how Brodin got his nickname “Jimmy,” after one of the rappers in the duo, “Slim Jimmy.”
“Guys still call me that today,” Brodin said, smiling.
Dumba and Brodin lived in the Ivy building in Minneapolis (the Swede still lives there today). There were some young players in the place back then. “It was like the college days, a frat house on steroids,” Dumba said. “An open door policy. So many good times away from the rink.”
They’d play cards and cribbage against each other. Chess too.
“He’s probably up in chess,” Dumba said. “I’m up in cribbage. He’s a thinker. He’s smart. The language barrier jams him up a bit but you put him in a game-like situation and he’s a gamer. He can read stuff, anticipate.”
Dumba’s favorite memory with Brodin was when he visited him in Sweden for the Swede’s birthday. Brodin had won the world championship a few years before, so he had his gold helmets out. The Swedish flags. “There was some Dumba-Brodin chants at the club,” Dumba said. “It was pretty fun.”
Dumba and Brodin had their own warmup routine before games for a decade, passing the puck to each other. Brodin laughed when thinking about his first game without Dumba this season, skating around by himself in the middle of the ice. “I didn’t know what to do,” he joked.
“We connected right away,” Brodin said of Dumba. “I knew he’d be a friend for life.”
The story of Brodin’s hockey career can be told by scanning the wall in Brodin’s childhood bedroom.
There are all of his medals hanging up on the wall, from the world juniors to world championships. Below are Swedish newspaper articles showing his NHL success and celebrating his contract, a seven-year, $42 million deal signed in 2020. There’s a painting on the wall of Brodin done by his uncle, one of his mother’s nine siblings. Brodin said he’s got tons of cousins from all over, as his grandparents on one side of the family are from Norway and Finland.
There are his three gold helmets on top of his dresser. Not that if you met him, you’d hear about them.
“He’s the most humble player I’ve ever been around,” Lindstrom said. “You talk to him and he’s like, ‘I’m average.’”
“He hasn’t changed at all,” Eriksson Ek said. “The same guy.”
“It’s like time stands still for Jonas,” said Leif Carlsson, a former Färjestad coach.
Brodin is most at peace when he’s back in the Karlstad area. He trains every day in the summer with Eriksson Ek and fellow Wild teammate Marcus Johansson, who moved to the town when he was 15. Former Färjestad teammates still call him “Bacon,” a nickname Brodin garnered because he’d eat macaroni and bacon at home every day instead of the meal at the arena. Brodin’s biggest passion is fishing. He goes out on the lake often with Klefbom, in search of smallmouth bass. His biggest catch so far is 3.5 pounds. Eriksson Ek comes out sometimes too.
“It’s always competitive,” Brodin said. “Who has the biggest one.”
Brodin’s mother is planning to retire soon from her job at the local grocery store. His father, Stefan, an engineer in heating systems, may never stop. “He loves it,” Brodin said. “When he’s on vacation, he still works.” Brodin said around 15 members of his family and friends are coming over from Karlstad to watch him play Saturday and Sunday in Stockholm for the Global Series. Wallin said it’ll be nice for the spotlight to be on Brodin for once, something that’s well deserved.
“Some other guys are more attractive to the audience, the newspapers,” Froberg said. “But Jonas is never going to seek that out. He doesn’t love to be in the media. He loves being Jonas Brodin. And he’s one of the best defensemen in the world.
“He’s fine being a no one.”
(Top photos: Joe Smith / Athletic and André Ringuette / NHLI via Getty Images)