Jacob Markstrom gets it all the time. You’re a professional hockey player? Really?
He’s too tall. Too lean. He doesn’t look burly or mean enough. You sure you don’t play another sport?
“People think I play basketball or volleyball,” says Markstrom, a native of Gavle, Sweden. “When I tell people I play hockey, they have a hard time believing that.”
The San Antonio Rampage goalie stands 6-foot-6, uncommonly tall for his position, and weighs a mere 195 pounds. Markstrom would be considered thin for an NBA shooting guard. The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, for example, is the same height but weighs 205. Then there’s Danny Green, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds.
Looks deceive. When he puts on his gear, Markstrom is a monster in the net. In one recent four-game stretch, he helped the Rampage to four American Hockey League victories, allowing seven goals on 137 shots.
Included was a gem against the league-leading Abbotsford Heat in which Markstrom made 32 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory. The following night he posted a 36-save shutout. Little wonder he was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week.
Markstrom got hot at just the right time. He started slowly, winning only two of his first nine games, and endured a five-game losing streak. Rampage goalie Dov Grumet-Morris outplayed him during the stretch.
What did Markstrom do to turn his game around? He didn’t draw inspiration from coaches. He didn’t practice longer with teammates. He didn’t play harder. “I didn’t change anything,” Markstrom says. “I just kept at it until things fell in place.”
No one ever doubted his talent. He won the International Ice Hockey Federation Best Player Award at the World Juniors in 2009. He was named the Swedish Elite Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year in 2010. The 31st overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Markstrom became the youngest goaltender to play for the Florida Panthers when he debuted in January 2011.
He remains one of the Panther’s most highly touted prospects. Many consider him “the best goalie not playing in the NHL.”
Consider his performance in last season’s AHL playoffs. He led the Rampage to a 2-0 series lead against Chicago before the Panthers recalled him. Markstrom returned to San Antonio for Game 5, posted 37 saves and led the team to a 3-2 double overtime victory -- the first playoff series triumph in Rampage history.
His future gleams. But there are talented netminders ahead of him. During a recent radio interview, the host asked Markstrom how tough it was to move up in an organization so deep in the net. His answer: “Well, I guess I picked the wrong position.”
When was the last time a goalie said something like that? Markstrom breaks the stereotype. Tall. Witty. Self-deprecating. Ask him what he’s doing to bulk up and he says, “I’m working out to be a better goalie, not to look better on the beach, though that would be nice.”
He’s quick with a quip as his nearly 15,000 followers on Twitter can attest. “I know that u r in Canada,” he recently tweeted, “when they show ahl, ohl highlights and NHL meetings on tv!”
The kicker : “#endlockout wanna watch hockey in the US to … ”
He wears his feelings, random and otherwise, on his social media sleeve. “Got a challenge for everybody out there,” he recently tweeted. “Sneeze with your eyes open! Been trying to do it for a long time! Is it possible??”
Markstrom stands out for his quirky humor as well as his height. In the AHL, only one goalie is taller -- 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop. In the Markstrom family, Jacob is the second tallest athlete. Older brother Tim stands 6-foot-7 and plays goalie for FC Fredericia, a pro soccer team in Denmark.
“He’s a great player,” Jacob says and then he gets to thinking.
“It would be great if he could play soccer here in San Antonio."
The mind turns. The humor kicks in.
"Do you have any connections? I’ll take a 10 percent cut as his agent.”