By Lindsey Willhite
Eddie Lack’s mask betrays his occupation and reveals his nickname. To get a taste of the rest of his oversized personality, simply wait a moment for him to remove the mask.
The 23-year-old from Norrtalje, Sweden, is a National Hockey League-bound goaltender, yes, but he’s not one of those goalies that spends his time frowning and stewing and suspecting the world might end should a puck sneak past him into the net.
No, Lack is a cheerful prankster, an eager world traveler and an ambitious cook.
That’s right: While his mask tells you the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder’s long-held nickname is “Storken” --- which means “The Stork” in his native tongue --- he’s building a reputation with the Chicago Wolves as “The Swedish Chef.”
On any given night in their northwest suburban apartment, either Lack or center Jordan Schroeder can be found manipulating pots and pans to produce a healthful meal worthy of professional athletes trying to get to the top.
“I make pretty much everything,” Lack said with his Swedish accent and a smile. “I try to mix in a lot of pasta and rice --- the kind of stuff we need. But it’s good. I make a lot of fish and lot of sauces. I make a good fish with potatoes and lemon sauce. I make a nice crust on the fish. Yeah, you wouldn’t believe that, huh?”
Count defenseman Kevin Connauton, who lives one floor below Lack and Schroeder and carpools with them to practice, as a deadpan skeptic.
“They think they’re good cooks up there, but I question their abilities,” Connauton said.
Schroeder insists it’s true. He has witnessed Lack inhaling cooking shows on his laptop, then trying his hand at whatever he sees.
“We both really like to cook,” Schroeder said. “He shows me some things that he makes in Sweden. I show him some of my home cooking that I learned from my parents (in Prior Lake, Minn.), so it’s a good combo.”
“Sometimes it’s tough when you’re tired and you don’t want to do something special,” Lack said. “You want to do something easy. But at least three times a week, I like to make something special and try new dishes.”
Lack’s adventurous side isn’t limited to the kitchen. His mother, Mia, used to work at a travel agency, so she arranged family vacations throughout the world. Long before Lack played for Team Sweden in the 2007 USA Junior National Hockey Festival at Lake Placid, N.Y., he had visits to New York City, Miami, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, France and England under his belt.
Greece ranks among his favorite places to visit. After earning American Hockey League all-rookie honors last season with the Manitoba Moose, Lack and some friends relaxed by renting a sailboat and drifting around Greece.
It’s tempting to suggest Lack used that time to decompress after his first professional season in North America --- one in which he won 28 games and allowed just 2.26 goals per 60 minutes --- but he doesn’t seem like the sort who needs such an outlet.
As Winnipeg Free Press columnist Randy Turner so aptly captured Lack last March:
“He walks around Mooseville with a grin plastered on his cheery mug as wide as a split-save. He always looks like he’s just been told a great joke or he’s about to tell you one. He’s forever playfully needling teammates and staff.
“In short, Eddie Lack is Dennis the Menace with a mask. How would Lack describe himself? ‘Happy and easygoing,’ he replied. ‘Taking advantage of every day to the max.’ ”
When asked about his reputation as a playful instigator, Lack becomes uncharacteristically shy. While he loves being part of the byplay that’s such a crucial part of life in the dressing room, he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s ultra-serious about his craft.
He goes on the ice early to work with Wolves goaltending coach Stan Dubicki. If teammates want to stick around after practice to work on their shooting, Lack stays in the net to provide resistance and work on his reflexes. In the evening, he watches Pekka Rinne, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo to pick up tips.
“I’m just trying to get good habits from everyone,” he said.
Perhaps his best habit? Lack performs when the lights are bright. He turned in his first shutout of the season Oct. 21 against Rockford at Allstate Arena --- the linchpin of a 162-minute, 19-second stretch over three games where he didn’t allow a goal on home ice.
Not too shabby for a young man who went ignored in the 2009 NHL draft --- and didn’t have any sort of reputation in North America until he joined the Manitoba Moose last season.
“For me, he kind of came out of nowhere,” said Wolves general manager Wendell Young, who played in 187 NHL games and earned two Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I didn’t know his name, but that happens sometimes. Goalies develop or mature later. Could be a growth spurt. Who knows? The thing is, it was a matter of time before he got noticed at the progression that he’s going.”
“He’s continuing that progression this year in his development to become an NHL goalie. Probably the biggest thing, especially with a goalie, is consistency. We know he’s a good goalie. He’s a consistent goalie now. A lot of guys have one good year and then they fall off. With a goalie, you’ve got to have good year after good year. So far, Eddie’s shown what he has in his second year, too.”