It’s not uncommon to see a European-born player make their way to North America to navigate his NHL Draft season.
More rare, it is, to see the reverse happen.
American-born Victor Mancini decided to go the other way, heading to Sweden for his draft-eligible year.
The Saginaw, MI product moved to Gothenburg for the season — playing with Frolunda’s under-18 and under-20 clubs.
“It was a big decision to make for me,” started Mancini, “but in the end, it’s all about where I want to be three, four, five years from now — which is the NHL.”
Frolunda has been an NHL prospect hotbed over the years, producing talent such as Erik Karlsson, Henrik Lundqvist, and, more recently, Rasmus Dahlin.
They also have Lucas Raymond, ranked No. 4 in FC Hockey’s Spring ranking for the 2020 draft.
“The development they do over there…they focus on winning but they also focus on you as well, what you do on and off the ice,” Mancini said. “They want to make you a better player. For me, it was all about that development aspect and what they do in practice and the weight room.”
Mancini is the son of Bob Mancini, the former coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit, who is currently in long-term athlete development for USA Hockey.
Dad weighed in heavily on the decision.
“He’s been preaching (Frolunda) for such a long time now,” Mancini smiled. “It started when I was really little, him coaching me and what I should be doing. It never stops until I’m there and even when I am where I want to be, you can still always get better.”
With the transition to a new style of game and a different rink size, some players find that difficult to adjust.
Luckily for the defenseman, it fit right into his game.
“With the size of the rink, I don’t think it took too long to adjust,” he said. “Having a little bit of extra space is kind of nice for a defender. You get a little more time when people are coming at you, a little more space to make plays.
“The style of the game was good. It’s a little different. It’s hard to compare it to the USHL, but they’re both very good leagues. I was challenged a lot.”
Off the ice can be a challenge, too.
Mancini had some extra help adjusting to his new life in a new country. His mom made the move with him, and they decided to bring his dog along as well.
“It was great,” said Mancini. “Moving to a country I’ve never been to before, I was a little uncertain. But having my mom and my dog there, it was really good support. I’m really thankful for both of them. I don’t know if I could have gone over without my mom especially. That was nice.
“And then coming home to a dog that loves you. If you play a good game or a bad game, he’s going to love you no matter what.”
On top of having part of his family there with him, the Frolunda organization helped make the transition as easy as possible.
“All the coaches were great,” Mancini said. “My head coach, Tobias Johansson, we’ve known him for a while now. He’s been awesome as a coach and as a person to help us get settled and make sure we were comfortable. All the other coaches and teammates, they all spoke great English, they were nice to me, and they made me feel at home which was great.
While being in a new, European city would lead the average person to as many tourist destinations as they could visit, hockey came first for Frolunda and Mancini.
Sightseeing was second.
“It was an unbelievable experience off the ice,” Mancini said. “Living in Saginaw and then transferring to Gothenburg, which is a much bigger city, I got used to city life and I kind of enjoyed it. My teammates taught me how to use public transportation, and things like that.
“There was a lot of cool things to do around the city to keep myself busy on off days.
“Every once in a while, we’d find some time to walk around and do something. But over there it’s a lot of hockey. A lot of the time you’re at the rink, on a bus to a game, in the weight room. Sometimes you’re just too tired and you want to go home and rest.”
Mancini played eight games in the J18 Elit, collecting six points (three goals, three assists), six games in the J18 Allsvenskan where he was held pointless, and had 38 games in the SuperElit with the J20 club, scoring nine goals and adding five assists for 14 points.
While he’s happy with his season, there is still some unfinished business for him in Sweden with Frölunda, where he’ll be returning next season before joining the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2021-22.
“Overall, I’m really happy,” Mancini said. “Accomplishment-wise, it’s hard when the season ends like that with the Coronavirus. Obviously, I wanted to get into the playoffs and win some hardware.
“But I’m really happy with where I am right now, and I’m really excited to be going back next year with the development program they have for the players.”