Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Golden Knights’ star center William Karlsson grew up playing hockey in the youth leagues of Stockholm, Sweden.
One of his friends and teammates was Viktor Brask, who he started playing with at age 5.
Brask was bigger than most kids. He didn’t score much, but he did a lot of hitting. So much hitting, that Karlsson and his friends made a highly comedic video compilation of his best bone-crushing checks. The video is as bad as you’d expect from 14-year-olds, and set to the beat of an awful Swedish song with outlandish lyrics.
Brask was the muscle and Karlsson was the scorer, but eventually their careers took them in separate directions. Karlsson went to a hockey academy in Sweden, which eventually led him to the NHL, and Brask ended up in the Western States Hockey League playing in Texas.
Years later the two are reunited 5,000 miles away in the middle of the desert.
After a few seasons in junior hockey, Brask joined the UNLV hockey team and is now in his junior year, and Karlsson was selected by the Golden Knights in last summer’s expansion draft and blossomed into one of the best scorers in the league last season.
“It’s pretty funny when you think about it,” Karlsson said. “Who would have thought we’d be playing hockey in Vegas?”
The two have stayed in touch over the years, occasionally crossing paths during their off-seasons.
“We would see each other a few times during the summers when we were back in our hometown, whether it’s old friends playing soccer or hanging out at a bar,” Karlsson said. “He’s always been a really good guy and he’s a fun guy to hang out with.”
Karlsson scored 43 goals, won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and finished sixth in voting for the Selke Trophy given to the best defensive forward in the NHL. His emergence as one of the best two-way forwards in the league caught most off guard, but Brask said it was no surprise to him.
“He’s a dynamic player and you can trust him on both sides of the ice,” Brask said. “Playing with him growing up he was not only putting up all of the goals but he was the most reliable player on the team because you can trust him.”
The Golden Knights practice facility City National Arena serves as the home arena for UNLV hockey, so the two went from 5-year-olds playing hockey and pee-wee soccer together in Sweden to skating on the same ice rink on a daily basis in Las Vegas.
“It is cool to share the same facility,” Brask said. “Obviously we took different paths, but I’m so happy for him. It was always fun playing together when we were young, but I didn’t have close to the talent he had growing up.”
Brask has come into his own, putting up impressive numbers with 25 goals and 35 assists in his first season with UNLV. His offensive numbers dipped last season to only 11 points, but he scored twice for the Rebels in the playoffs and provided a big, physical presence at the center position.
Off the ice, Brask is enjoying his time at UNLV. After growing up in Sweden and playing college hockey briefly in North Dakota, he wanted a change of scenery.
“Honestly where I was at in North Dakota it was a small school of only about 800 students, and for me coming from Sweden I really wanted to go to a big school and get the real university experience,” Brask said. “I also wanted to play at a higher level of hockey. The weather was also a small factor.”
Las Vegas offers plenty of entertainment options, and being friends with Karlsson doesn’t hurt.
“William is very humble, even though he’s become so big right now,” Brask said. “He’s really become like the poster boy for Vegas. Vegas has never had a pro team, so for a young guy coming from Sweden and tearing it up in the NHL, and being so humble like he is, obviously he’s the perfect poster boy. It’s just crazy that it’s in Vegas, the adult playground.”
Karlsson’s face greets commuters every day on the 215 Beltway, his signature blond hair backed by a blue and yellow Swedish flag on a Volvo billboard with the words “How Swede it is.”
“I’m so happy for him because he’s a great guy too,” Brask said. “My family came over from Sweden for a week last fall and he just took care of everyone. He brought my 10-year-old little brother in, got him a jersey, autographed it, and got my father and brother tickets to a Golden Knights game. He takes care of the people that are around him.”
Karlsson and Brask have hung out a few times in Las Vegas, and Karlsson still reminisces about their times on the ice together in Sweden.
“Just last week I was watching the video we made of Viktor,” Karlsson said. “I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s cool we both ended up here.”