The Capitals expected Steffen Soberg — a 2011 fourth-round pick — to attend the team’s rookie camp last September and then play for Swift Current of the WHL. For awhile, the Norwegian goaltender did, too.
But after attending a training camp with the junior club, Soberg, 18, realized he wasn’t ready to make the jump to North America and headed back to Norway for good. He’s at Capitals development camp this week and plans to spend one more season playing in his home country.
“I just didn’t feel like being there,” Soberg said of his brief time with Swift Current. “I got homesick, so I wanted to be like in a safer environment, like more comfortable, and I think that’s home right now being around my family, my friends.”
That decision ultimately cost Soberg valuable ice time. Because Swift Current had acquired his rights in the CHL Import Draft, the team had the right to block him from playing in Norway. He did not suit up for Manglerud in the country’s top league until after Christmas and played in just 17 games, posting a 3.86 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
For their part, the Capitals supported Soberg’s decision — if not the way he handled it. Dave Prior, the team’s goaltending coach, has had success grooming goalies coming through the junior level and believed that was the best place for Soberg. He said the the 5-foot-11, 176-pound netminder “sort of went into hiding” upon returning to his homeland.
“That was more of the scolding he received from me — how he handled the situation, how he failed to reach out to myself for advice on how to deal with what was an uncomfortable situation for him,” Prior said. “I don’t think it will happen again.”
Prior said Soberg has received assurances from his team in Norway that he will be the No. 1 goalie this season. He and associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig are working hard to drill Soberg on the skills they’d like him to work on — including being more assertive in net — before he goes back.
Soberg, who sat out Thursday’s session with a groin injury, said he’s trying to make up for what he considered a poor showing at development camp last summer. The netminder has also had plenty of conversations this week with coaches and team officials explaining his situation.
“Most of the people understand, but [some] they don’t think it’s the right decision, that kind of stuff,” Soberg said. “But I just do what I think is best for me right now.”
Meanwhile, the organization’s impressive young goalie pipeline continues to move along talent.
In his first professional season, Philipp Grubauer, a 2010 second-round pick, posted the ECHL’s third-best goals-against average with South Carolina.
Grubauer, 20, had season-ending wrist surgery in March, but Prior said he’s on track to be ready for training camp. The German netminder is likely ticketed for Hershey, where he will compete with veteran Dany Sabourin for playing time.
“I think he’ll do a very good job,” Prior said. “He had to have surgery, and he’s got to recover from that, make sure he gets his game on track, but knowing Philipp, I don’t expect that will take long.”
Grubauer’s promotion should create an opportunity for Brandon Anderson. One of five goalie prospects at development camp, Anderson is preparing for his first professional season and will likely start out at new ECHL affiliate Reading.
Anderson, who turned 20 on Friday, earned a three-year entry level contract after coming to the 2010 develompent camp as a free agent invitee. He spent the past two seasons playing in the WHL with Lethbridge and Brandon.
The organization’s rash of goalie injuries late last season allowed Anderson to join Hershey after his junior season ended. He didn’t see game action with the Bears but still savored the opportunity.
“I didn’t get to play, but I got to sit on the bench and be part of the team,” Anderson said. “It was a great experience for me. I learned a lot of things, seeing how the guys prepare and work hard everyday and how to be a professional.”
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