By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

Rasmus Bengtsson is back from a weeklong learning experience in the American Hockey League.

The Muskegon Lumberjacks’ 19-year-old defenseman spent seven days in the 90-degree heat of San Antonio skating for the Rampage.

Muskegon Lumberjack Rasmus Bengtsson

“It was fun and it was a great experience,” said Bengtsson prior to Monday’s practice session with the Jacks. “I got to know a lot of new guys and I learned a lot of hockey stuff, too.”

He also played one of the Rampage’s two preseason games this past weekend.

“We played three pairs all game long so I played about 20 minutes,” said Bengtsson, a second-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “There are a few really, really big guys. I just have to go in and play my game because I can’t compete with those 6-foot-5, 220 pound guys. I just had to be smart out there.”

Bengtsson and his teammates did not score that night in a 3-0 loss to the Texas Stars, the top affiliate of the Dallas Stars. Bengtsson did have one scoring chance.

“I was close to scoring, but I missed the net,” he said. “I had a lot of puck possession and just tried to put my passes on the tape and play solid defensively.”

Besides playing in one preseason game, Bengtsson practiced every day, met the coaching staff, the medical staff and players vying to earn a spot on the Rampage roster.

“There were a lot of guys there trying to make the team,” said Bengtsson. “Guys were going too hard sometimes.

“I was the youngest guy there, but I played two years in a row when I played pro in Sweden when I was the youngest,” Bengtsson said. “A lot of the younger guys stuck together there and the older guys did too. It was a good group.”

So what was the biggest thing he learned while skating in the AHL?

“It’s making the decision when to make a hard and tricky pass,” he said. “At the next level, you have to think faster and make smarter plays. Everyone is smarter and bigger.

“They clog up the neutral zone so there’s not a lot of ice and you have to play smart,” said Bengtsson, who said if you don’t make a split-second decision, you can get yourself into big trouble.

Bengtsson did keep tabs on how the Lumberjacks fared while he was gone. He watched two periods of the 3-1 victory over Chicago last weekend, but was playing on  Saturday and did not watch the victory over Indiana.

“Hopefully, we have a big year here and I have a lot of success for the team and for me,” said Bengtsson, who said he could get used to playing hockey in a warm-weather climate real easily.

“It could be my home one day,” said Bengtsson, who said it was 90-93 degrees each day. “It was shorts and a t-shirt. I could get used to that … and it’s warm in Florida.”