Twenty years old and away from home for the first time, in a new city, in a new country, in a new job surrounded by new people, Gustav Forsling spent his first few weeks in North America in a luxury hotel downtown. The room was posh and the location was sweet, but luxury hotel rooms don’t come with kitchens. Only extended-stay hotels do. And neither Forsling nor his Chicago chaperone, Dennis Rasmussen, was guaranteed an extended stay yet.
And while frequent trips to some of Chicago’s finest steakhouses were nice, both Forsling and his new buddy Rasmussen missed the creature comforts and traditional foods of their native Sweden.
You know. Tacos.
“We told each other the first thing we’re going to do when we move into the other hotel was to cook tacos,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a Swedish tradition.”
Turns out Sweden has Taco Tuesdays, too. Only it’s Taco Fridays. Or Taco Fredag, to be more precise. The Swedes call it fredagsmys, a tradition of staying in on Friday nights, making tacos, and maybe watching a movie and having a drink or two. Other than occasionally throwing in pineapples into the taco toppings, it’s basically the same as it is in the United States. And so once the two made the Blackhawks out of camp and moved to the new hotel, they went right to work.
Rasmussen chopped the vegetables and Forsling cooked the ground beef.
“We love tacos,” Forsling said. “We missed them. Every Friday in Sweden we eat tacos. It’s weird, right? I don’t know why, actually.”
For a rookie such as Forsling, who came to the NHL straight from Sweden without even a pit stop in the American Hockey League, any bit of familiarity goes a long way. So he and Rasmussen have become fast friends, as the 25-year-old Rasmussen — in his second NHL season and his third in North America — has taken the 20-year-old Forsling under his wing. While Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte hang out in the same hotel and play Xbox, Forsling and Rasmussen explore the city, converse in their native tongue, and yes, make tacos.
“The kid doesn’t have a driving license, so I have to drive him everywhere,” Rasmussen said. “He’s a great guy, a great kid. He’s so humble and down to earth and everything. He’s so easy to take care of, and it’s good for me, too, to have someone to hang out with.”
The comfort off the ice has made the transition easier on the ice. Forsling, who is day to day with an upper-body injury after being hit face-first into the glass Monday night against Calgary — Joel Quenneville said he’s questionable for Friday’s game in New Jersey, but should be back soon — has immediately become an everyday player for the Hawks. And Trevor van Riemsdyk’s injury makes Forsling’s job that much more secure. He has one assist in seven games, and despite making the jump to the NHL a year ahead of schedule, he hasn’t looked out of place at all in the NHL.
And Forsling is getting more comfortable every day.
“I’m getting used to it, but normal? I wouldn’t say it’s normal yet,” Forsling said with a laugh. “It’s the best league in the world. It’s tough every game. You have to be on your toes. But I’ve felt pretty good, and confidence is a big part of it. If you get confidence, you play better. If you play bad, it can hurt you. So I always have to think positively.”
Rasmussen was a pleasant surprise last season, playing 44 games and scoring four goals as a fourth-line center. With Andrew Desjardins injured, the big Swede has been on the left wing for the last five games, and has played well. His line, with Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo, has made the most of meager minutes, playing a positive possession game and frequently flipping the ice during their shifts.
“He’s been really good,” Quenneville said. “He bided his time and then got in there, and he’s done a great job for us. Gives us some size, gives us some depth, gives us some usefulness as far as playing a couple of positions and taking faceoffs. He can kill penalties, as well. He’s turned out to be very useful.”
Useful on and off the ice, as Forsling has learned.
“He’s a great guy,” Forsling said. “It’s nice to have someone to eat tacos with.”