Goaltender Oscar Dansk channels his inner strength and tends to his mind
The 25-year-old’s willingness to embrace new ideas – no matter how challenging and unconventional they might seem – was cultivated in him long ago.
For example, when he was just 13 years old, he earned an invitation to attend Shattuck-St. Mary’s boarding school. That’s the celebrated hockey powerhouse that has molded more than 70 NHL draft picks – including future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Nathan MacKinnon.
The fact that Dansk lived in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, and would be required to relocate to a small town in Minnesota — by himself, barely into his teen years — would not stop him.
On the contrary, his parents, Fredrik and Anna, encouraged him to move 4,289 miles from home. It represented a giant step toward fulfilling the world-citizen ideals they instilled in Oscar and his brothers, Victor and Emil.
Fredrik and Anna love Sweden and its educational system, but always have strived for their sons to be able to be self-sufficient on a global scale.
“We felt we wanted to put more emphasis on a few areas: IT, the ability to work/function in teams and the English language,” Anna wrote in an email interview. “For this reason we gave our sons extra classes/training in these areas. As Swedish is a relatively small language and English is a world language, we organized extra classes with a consultant that our company had used. The boys went to these classes on a regular basis over a period of two years, between the ages of 9-11. We also stated that we wished they would be fluent by the age of 12.”
Victor, the oldest, lived with a billet family on Vancouver Island in British Columbia the year he turned 12. The Dansks spent several family vacations there as well – and Oscar participated in a goalie camp that led to his Shattuck-St. Mary’s invite.
His Shattuck-St. Mary’s experience didn’t start well, but Oscar wound up spending three years there and enjoying them immensely.
“I was crying for the first week,” Oscar said. “I was crying pretty hard. This was before hockey had started and we were just getting ready for school. My mom was with me in the beginning. Then she flew home. A week in, I was like, ‘This is tough.’ So she came over again and stayed with me the first two weeks of the school year.”
As Oscar made friends and met challenges in the classroom – and, of course, enjoyed playing hockey – the Shattuck-St. Mary’s experience became exactly what his parents hoped.
“They told me when I went to Shattuck my first year, it’s not necessarily for hockey,” Oscar said. “It was more for school and the experience than for the hockey itself. It was a great hockey school – it’s a great hockey school still – but it was more so culture-wise.
“Just to put a point on that of how my parents are — it was more my dad, actually, at this point: He made me and my older brother take Mandarin in high school. My brother continued with it. He travelled to Beijing for two summers. I wanted to take Spanish.”
Though Oscar did not enjoy taking two years of Mandarin at Shattuck, everything else about the experience was first-rate.
“I was a good student in school,” he said. “I enjoyed it. I was like, a B-plus, A student. And Shattuck is a really good school. It’s tough. I read Shakespeare my second year there and I was doing pretty well. So I was like, ‘I’m pretty decent with this.’ But then hockey kind of took over. But I enjoyed the schooling part. I kind of miss that. Since I didn’t go to college or anything. I’m trying to find a way that I can stay stimulated and study things more in-depth.
“I’m interested in different stuff at different points. It can vary from week to week. I try to stimulate my brain as much as I can – whether it be reading books or learning about the body and how my body works. I’m not really getting into depth into anything yet.”
One of Oscar’s current intellectual pursuits was inspired by fellow goaltender Zach Fucale, who has spent two lengthy stints with the Wolves this season. During one of Fucale’s stretches with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, he’d drive teammate Mason Baptista to the rink every day. They started talking about Wim Hof, a bearded 59-year-old extreme athlete from The Netherlands known as “Iceman.”
Hof has earned a level of fame for teaching his body to withstand extreme temperatures while completing athletic feats. He has set 26 world records with his exploits, which included spending one hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds in an ice bath. Oh, he also climbed Mount Everest while wearing shorts and Mount Kilimanjaro in 31 hours without wearing a shirt.
“He has figured out this breathing technique that works really good and science has proven that it works,” Oscar said. “I’ve been doing some of his stuff, which includes breathing and more cold showers and cold baths, which isn’t very pleasant. It’s more controlling the mind and having self-control. It’s pretty interesting stuff. I’ve never heard anything like it, so that’s what I’m doing now.”
“We had a little challenge going,” Fucale said. “We had a little more ice than usual in the ice bath and it was a challenge to see who could stay in the water longer. It was probably around 45 degrees and it gets harder when the jets move the water around. But it makes us recover pretty good and I think it makes you feel really good. The breathing technique is huge, too. I think anybody could benefit from that.”
To be certain, goaltenders can benefit from any scientific technique that enables them to reduce their stress level while they’re in net.
“When we’re under stress and when we’re under pressure, which technically you’re under stress and under pressure in an ice bath, you’re going to choke up and start breathing heavily,” Oscar said. “Those are the parts where you’ve just got to breathe and find your self-control.
“I think I can get stressed, but I think I can handle it pretty well. I’ve learned that through playing goalie. I’ve learned how to deal with it – because there’s a lot of pressure and stress that comes with it, which I enjoy. But everyday-life stress, I think that’s tougher to handle. But you also need to put yourself out there in order to learn. That’s how you learn how to handle situations.”
Oscar’s willingness to trust himself paid off during his detour-laden path to hockey’s peak. After leaving Shattuck-St. Mary’s at the age of 16, he returned to Sweden and got a place by himself an hour away from home while playing in the Swedish Elite League.
After two years in the SEL, Oscar was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Vegas’ Malcolm Subban were the other goalies picked ahead of him.
Things didn’t go well with Columbus (he spent two of his three seasons with the organization playing in Sweden), so he had uncertain expectations when he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights and joined the Wolves in the fall of 2017.
Then, remarkably, Oscar found himself in the NHL in October 2017 and posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.78 goals-against average in four games for Vegas before suffering an injury. He also became the answer to a delicious trivia question: Who was the first Golden Knight goaltender to earn a shutout? Oscar made it happen on Oct. 27, 2017, with a 7-0 blanking of the Colorado Avalanche. He also defeated the Blackhawks three days earlier.
“I didn’t even think I was going to play in the NHL at all (last year),” Oscar said. “Obviously you’ve had your dreams. And getting drafted fairly high, I thought, “OK, there’s a chance.’ But then things don’t go as you want them to go and you’ve got to take some detours. But it’s still a dream, you know? Vegas gave me a chance to sign and I said, ‘Sure, I’m not going to pass up on that.’ It was them taking a chance on me and me taking a chance on myself. Sometimes it just happens – and it happened really quick.”
Oscar’s parents watched his NHL debut joyfully from their home in Sweden. They were supposed to be in America at that time – visiting Oscar in Chicago – but couldn’t rearrange their travel plans and get to Vegas once he moved to the NHL.
“As parents we are so proud of him for what he did in Vegas, but given that we have had a much different life together than other families we are even more proud of him being just Oscar,” Anna wrote. “This is what it does to you to send your son away at 13 and never really get him back living back home. We have developed a somewhat different relationship.
“We are so very close to all of our sons, all of them have been away from home for long periods, and this is much because we didn’t get to have supper together for years. We were forced to develop our relationships with the boys in another way.
“Personality-wise, the boys are very different. Sure, they have mutual characteristics but even more they have grown into strong and independent individuals. Regarding Oscar, we are most proud of him that he has developed into a fine individual that really can take care of himself while keeping and sticking to the fundamental values of caring for others – being a team player. THIS makes us very proud.”