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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Sudbury sensation takes a liking to Swedish soccer
by Randy Pascal

The long-term goal remains the same for Sudbury soccer sensation Jenna Hellstrom - it’s just the short-term destination that has changed.

“Of course, I would love to play in the Olympics,” said Hellstrom recently. “That’s my top goal, anybody would want that. But right now, I’m just going to focus on doing well for FC Rosengard, and whatever happens, happens.”

Malmo Sweden will constitute the latest stop in the impressive career, to date, of the 22 year old graduate of Lasalle Secondary. Hellstrom parlayed a scholarship opportunity with the Kent State Golden Flashes into a memorable four year run, rewriting the program’s offensive record book left, right and centre, and helping to lead the team to their first ever MAC (Mid-American Conference) championship.

Understandably, that resume opened a few doors once her time in Ohio was done, including a potential opportunity with the National Women’s Soccer League. “I made the top 25 with Kansas City, but only the top 20 are contracted,” explained Hellstrom of her spring tryout with the mid-western professional team.

“But in order to get better, I need to play games. Plus, my Visa had expired. Instead of having to deal with all that, I looked to the transfer window for the Swedish League.” This wasn’t a completely new proposition. FC Rosengard had expressed some interest in Hellstrom dating back to the summer of 2016, when the northern Ontario product spent three weeks training overseas with the club.

A perennial powerhouse within the Damallsvenskan (the 12 team Swedish Premier loop), Rosengard offered up the possibility of “Champions League” play, a huge draw for a player looking to make a name against some of the very best female soccer talent on the globe.

“Even though I might get more minutes somewhere else, on a lower ranked team, I can see myself really developing here,” said Hellstrom. “They have been awesome with me. Even if I don’t get the amount of playing time that I have in the past, that’s not what it’s all about. I’m there to develop.”

And develop in an environment that should help nurture her growth. “One of our forwards is captain of the Swedish national team, we have a winger that plays for Holland,” said Hellstrom. “Even to be around these players at practice will help me a lot.” For an athlete who has made her name largely on her scoring prowess, there are worse things than to be facing Canadian national team keeper and Rosengard teammate Erin McLeod several times a week.

If the jump to the professional ranks presents specific hurdles into itself, so too does the move to a brand of soccer unlike anything that Hellstrom has previously seen. “In North America, it’s very direct, go forward, attack all the time, all the time,” she said. “In Europe, it’s a lot of side to side motion. They are very calm and composed on the ball. If you don’t see anything open, let’s keep rotating until we get a chance to go forward. That’s the difference, I see, they are just so patient.”

Very true to herself, Hellstrom will be the first to admit that patience has not always been a trademark of her game. “I’m a player who just likes to go, go, go,” she said with a laugh. “You have to be a lot smarter here. Instead of the winger always making the run, you might see the winger take the ball inside and let the fullback go on the run.”

“It’s more of a thinking game,” she continued. “That’s the game I need to improve on the most. Also, my foot skills - I need to be able to beat people not just with my speed, but to also be able to do things with the ball. It’s really important for me to get to the next level.”

Thankfully, it’s not as though Hellstrom has not been down this road before. “When I came from Sudbury to Kent, my thinking was so much slower,” she admitted. “They were on me so quick, and I wasn’t used to that. I was used to having all of this time and space with the ball. That was one of the biggest things I improved on, with my decision making getting a lot better.”

Blessed with a natural athleticism, Hellstrom has supplemented that with a work ethic that is the envy of many, one that served her well during the course of her NCAA career. “It’s just the basic drills, running through the cones, some of those things players don’t like to do,” she said. “Spending extra time on those things helped me so much.”

Adjusting to a completely new environment for the second time since leaving home at the age of 18, Hellstrom knows that Sweden presents a marked contrast to the acclimatization that was needed in Ohio. “It’s completely different, everything is different,” she said. “I don’t know Swedish (the language) yet, so that’s hard.”

“I think I’ve learned to adapt. I’m older, I know what to do in certain situations. But in college, we did everything together as a team. Here, players have their own lives, their own families.” She is hopeful that the lessons learned through an extremely supportive coaching staff at Kent Staff will pay dividends, focusing solely on the task at hand on any given day.

“I’ve learned not to worry about Team Canada and any of that stuff anymore,” she said. “It just got in my head so much when I was younger, and I can’t control that. All I can control is how much I practice, how much I want to be there, and hope one day they will see that.”

“I am just trying to continue and do well where I am.” And for the next few months anyways, that “where” will be Malmo, Sweden. Hellstrom leaves July 21st, with league play beginning on August 8th, armed with a contract that runs through until the end of November of so.

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