It’s not Forsberg, Lidstrom, or “The King” Salming and his scar heard round the ice world.
Ask Ducks star Rickard Rakell who his favorite player was while growing up in Sweden and a bright smile will fill his face as he tells you it’s Ake, the man better known as Gunnar.
So who’s this Gunner character? No, he’s not some three-chord guitar player from an underground Swedish punk band. He’s Rickard’s grandfather, world-champion tennis table player Ake “Gunnar” Rakell.
Even at the age of 75, Gunnar would head down to the club in his favorite tracksuit, paddles in hand, looking for a game. Rickard played tennis and soccer until he was 14 before he picked up the stick that changed his life.
When you ask other Ducks players about Rickard, the answer always comes back to one thing: his vision—the ability to see the ice, track the puck and its path, and react faster than anyone around him.
Rickard will tell you that he has Gunnar’s eyes.
Working on this split-second hand/eye coordination is probably why most NHL teams have a tennis table in their locker rooms.
But, for some reason, the Ducks never did.
That changed when I was approached by the team to introduce this young phenom to fans. So, after a bit of research, I ordered a table, set it next to the place Rickard’s most comfortable in the world, and got my assets handed to me by the other great Rakell table tennis player.
This short interview was the genesis for the LA Times feature article on Rickard, and I hear it started some heated table tennis rivalries that continue to this day.
Maybe that’s why Rickard will also tell you how he still plays table tennis two to three hours daily during his summers in Sweden.
You just can’t take that Gunnar vision for granted.