Trying to win in the NHL these days without good goaltending is like trying to stage a Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour without Billy Corgan. (In this analogy, D’arcy Wretzky would be the water boy.) Frederik Andersen has been so good for the Toronto Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks back in 2016 that he almost gets taken for granted.
Some evidence: He made a career-high 54 saves in a recent 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, leads the NHL in wins when facing 40 or more shots, has started the most games, and has faced the most shots among all goalies this season. And yet, Auston Matthews gets all the glory. For shame! If the Leafs have any hope of going on a run in the playoffs, they’ll need Andersen to be their best player.
For the calm, steady native of Herning, Denmark, the responsibility of tending goal for the team with the most passionate fanbase in the NHL is not one he takes lightly.
We recently sat down with Andersen to discuss what he’s learned about hockey’s significance in Toronto, the pitiful airtime hockey gets in Denmark, the Leafs’ fashion sense, and his love for… uh, John Mayer?
What’s the biggest thing that has surprised you about the Maple Leafs and hockey in Toronto?
Once you start talking to people around town, you really get an understanding for how deep it runs in their families compared to anything I’ve ever been used to. It’s been 100 years and it’s like a religion. It goes from generation to generation in families; it’s not just people who grew up in the last twenty years. It’s literally a hundred years.
Do you feel a strong sense of responsibility knowing how many people are counting on you and how much this means to people?
It’s a big honour to be able to play here. It couldn’t be said any better than the quote in our locker room by Johnny Bower: “It’s a privilege, not a right.” The opportunity we get to play in front of a sellout crowd every night, in sports I don’t think there’s any fanbase that’s hungrier and wants their team to succeed as much as here.
What made you want to become a goalie?
My dad Ernst was a goalie. Just watching him play a lot growing up, it looked fun. So that was probably the main reason.
How much was hockey a part of your family growing up? With your dad, brother, and sister all having played, I imagine it was a pretty big focus?
It was always what we were talking about around the dinner table. Hockey was small in Denmark; there would only be like a minute or two of it in the news cycle. If the news was an hour, there would be like ten minutes of sports, but only one minute here or there of hockey. If anybody in our family was watching television at the time, they’d yell out, “Hockey is on!” and it would be a race to get to the TV to see if we could get there in time to see some highlights of some of the games.
Who was the player you most admired watching while growing up?
Probably Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur. I liked watching Dominik Hasek too and I followed Curtis Joseph as well. My dad had the same pair of pads he wore so I always found that cool. That’s why I wore a replica of those pads at the Centennial Classic last season.
Play travel agent now. For those who don’t know much about Denmark, what is one thing you have to do in Denmark when you visit?
You’ve got to go see the Little Mermaid statue. Google it: Little Mermaid Denmark. It’s a little bronze statue in water and people think it’s huge like the Statue of Liberty but it’s just the size of a normal person. People are always asking where to get tickets to go for a viewing.
Morten Andersen, the former NFL kicker. Are you related to him?
No, I’m not but he’s probably one of the most accomplished people in Danish sports. It’s kind of funny that he leads the sport that is the most American thing ever and it’s not even an American guy who has the record for most games played and all-time leading scorer. It got a lot of attention too when he went to the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons and kicked the game-winning field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings. I started watching football because of that.
Last summer you went to a Blue Jays vs. Red Sox game with Auston Matthews and William Nylander at Fenway Park and got to go down on the field before the game. How much of a baseball fan are you?
I enjoy watching. A buddy of mine back when I played in Denmark was from New York so we were all watching the playoffs there in 2009 when they won their last championship. That’s when I first got into the game and the more I got to see it, the more interesting I found it. When I played in Anaheim, we got to meet some of the Angels and take some batting practice with them and same with the Blue Jays here.
Hit any homers in BP?
Close! Hit a few to the warning track and it bounced out. I guess I only would have got to second base on a ground rule double.
Some guys really take their fashion seriously. How much thought do you put into your suit game?
I like making sure I look sharp. I don’t go too crazy with the colours like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do. James van Riemsdyk should go into that category too. I definitely try to look good and classy though.
You spent a season as a teammate with Teemu Selanne with the Anaheim Ducks in 2013-14 when he played the final season of his career at 43. What is your favourite memory of playing with Teemu?
He opened a restaurant in Anaheim and for some reason we always seemed to have our dinners there. I don’t know if he was charging us extra but I know he definitely got some extra business there. It was all good though, it’s a great restaurant. On the ice he had the best wrist shot I’ve ever seen. He wouldn’t shoot it harder than anyone but he’d find a way to place it and score. In practice in between drills, he’d always grab a puck and come down and shoot on me to keep the goalie ready.
What’s one thing that has nothing to do with sports that you are passionate about?
I wouldn’t say I’m super passionate about it but I really enjoy John Mayer’s music. I don’t have any musical talents but he seems like an interesting person. He signed me a stick when he had a concert the next night after one of our games. I grabbed one of my goalie sticks so I’d like to see how many goalie sticks he’d ever signed. I’ve got it at home standing up in a corner but I’ve got to put it up sometime.