Family, food and football on menu for Detroit Red Wings’ Jonatan Berggren

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings are finally back at home, but rookie Jonatan Berggren is having a busy week on the road.

His Tuesday evening plans had him headed to Detroit Metro Airport, where his brother, his mother and her boyfriend were arriving from their native Sweden for a five-day stay that will enable them to see Berggren play in the NHL for the first time in person. He takes a goal and two assists into Wednesday’s match against the Nashville Predators, the first of five straight games at Little Caesars Arena.

“It will be a fun experience for them, and it is the first NHL game for them total, so it will be cool for them,” Berggren said Tuesday.

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The Wings have Thanksgiving off — thanks in no small part to their coach Derek Lalonde, a native of upstate New York, taking the opportunity to attend the Detroit Lions’ home game against the Buffalo Bills — and Berggren plans to introduce his mom to turkey and all the trimmings. His brother, Jesper, was here last year and got to enjoy the traditional meal.

“We had a real Thanksgiving with everything, it was nice,” Berggren said. “I will have to look up if there is some good restaurant that serves a Thanksgiving meal around here.”

Berggren sounded like he and Jesper may go to the Lions game first, saying, “My big brother is a big fan of football. He’s kind of like a nerd, so he definitely will love to come to the game.”

Berggren’s family will have the chance to see him again Friday when the Wings host the Arizona Coyotes. The 22-year-old has been a pleasant addition for the Wings, called up Nov. 10 at a time the Wings were without several skilled forwards. Berggren plays a smart, creative game, and already has earned power play time.

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“I feel more comfortable, like I start to know the guys and how it is to live with the NHL team,” Berggren said. “I feel more comfortable, for sure.”

With the Wings at full health when the season began, Berggren was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. He suffered a concussion in his first game, sidelining him two weeks, but had seven points in seven games before the Wings called. Berggren earned an assist in his NHL debut and scored in his third game.

It has helped that he has played with Joe Veleno; the two forwards, both from the 2018 draft (Veleno was No. 30, Berggren No. 33) have history that spans from the Griffins to being opponents while both played in the Swedish Hockey League during the pandemic. (“I tried to trash talk but it’s hard for me to trash-talk in English,” Berggren said, laughing, “so I said something in Swedish.”)

“I really enjoy it,” Veleno said. “He’s an incredible player, and he sees the ice really well, so it’s very easy to get open. I know what he is thinking most of the time, and spending time with him in GR and playing with him, it just makes it that much easier.”

Veleno likes to joke about having been “the Uber driver” for Berggren and Lucas Raymond during camp in 2021, so Berggren was happy to reciprocate when Veleno reached out.

“I have a rental car now,” Berggren said. “Joe needed a ride to the rink yesterday so I pick him up, and I think I have a few up on him, all the times he had to drive me.”

Veleno laughed when he heard Berggren. “Did he say he’s my chauffeur?” Veleno said. “He drives me once and that’s it. I think he owes me for driving him around all that time in Traverse City one year in the summer, and in GR, too. He’s lucky.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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