Blackhawks goalie prospect Arvid Soderblom surging for Rockford after adversity-laden winter

Soderblom dealt with the first rough patch of his career, suffering a groin injury and then struggling in first month back. Since late February, however, he has fully regained his form.

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Arvid Soderblom makes a save for Rockford.

Arvid Soderblom has been fantastic in goal for Rockford since late February.

Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Blackhawks goalie prospect Arvid Soderblom encountered adversity this winter.

That might not sound particularly newsworthy, but it was a new experience for Soderblom — a reflection on just how remarkably successful the 23-year-old Swede had been at every previous stage of his career.

This season, however, he learned how to deal with it, just like every professional player must at some point. That likely will aid him long-term.

After being sent down to Rockford in December — following an NHL stint nearly three months long — he allowed five goals on 17 shots in his first AHL start, then suffered a groin injury in his third start that knocked him out for more than three weeks. It was his first-ever significant injury.

“That was new to me to be in that situation,” Soderblom said Sunday. “But I learned something from it. It’s probably going to happen again — you get injured throughout your career.”

Even once he returned, he wasn’t the same impenetrable goaltender he typically has been. He allowed seven goals on 26 shots in his first game back on Jan. 20, beginning a monthlong stretch in which he posted a subpar .887 save percentage over 12 games.

“When you come back, it’s easy to chase your game a little bit,” he said. “And then you get scored on, you get frustrated, and it’s a downward spiral.

“Of course, a big part of it is mental — and also physical. You want to feel good in your body. When I came back, even though [my groin was] 100% healed, maybe in the back of your head you don’t want to rip it up again.”

At last, Soderblom found a way to restore his self-confidence and flip his spiral from downward to upward. He has been fantastic since late February, giving the IceHogs a chance to win every night, even when they struggle offensively.

His save percentage over his last 11 games sits at a stellar .935; he has made 29 or more saves in all but one of those games. He stopped 36 of 37 — and characteristically made it all look simple — in his latest start Sunday.

“My strength is my footwork and my skating, so [I’m focusing on] just being very sharp there,” he said. “Especially up [in the NHL] when it’s such a high-speed, high-pace game. I try to keep that up down here even though it’s a little bit slower. [It’s important] for me to always beat the pass, be there a little bit early and have those good habits.”

This certainly is nothing new for Rockford coach Anders Sorensen, who watched Soderblom single-handedly carry his team to the playoffs last year (when they had a significantly weaker roster). This season, they currently hold the Central Division’s final playoff spot by four points over the Wolves.

Nonetheless, Sorensen has been impressed by Soderblom’s resilience.

“He’s mentally a really tough kid,” Sorensen said. “He’s even keel. His work ethic is awesome, but he doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He understands the things he can control and the things he can’t control. He understood [back in January], ‘Hey, there’s some things that are out of my control.’ ”

Feeling more comfortable in Illinois — and in North America — than he did last year, his first season outside of Europe, also helped keep Soderblom’s mental state steady. He “wouldn’t say it feels like home” yet, but he knows better “what to expect around” him.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, but there shouldn’t be any drama there.

It’s clear the Hawks see him as a definite NHL-caliber goalie and potential NHL starter in the future — and that future very well may arrive next season. The only question pertains to how long his new contract will be.

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