Jakob Hellsten has never been to North America.
His first trip will be this summer when he comes to Grand Forks to join the UND men's hockey team.
Hellsten, a 21-year-old goaltender from the northern part of Sweden, verbally committed to UND last week and will become the first Swede to ever play for the 75-year-old program.
He's well acquainted with UND, though.
"UND is pretty well known in Sweden because of all of the great NHL players that come from there and the arena," Hellsten said. "A lot of guys (in Sweden) know where I'm going. I knew, for sure, before I started talking to Karl (Goehring). I got pretty star-struck the first time I talked to coach Goehring. I basically know everything from Cam Johnson and Brock Boeser and their great run to the national championship. I'm a bit of a hockey nerd when it comes to college."
Hellsten had an earlier option to play college hockey at Merrimack, but passed on it. He also had several opportunities in Sweden.
Once Hellsten began talking to Goehring, UND's assistant coach and goalie coach, and Brad Berry, the head coach, he knew that's where he wanted to go.
"It was a long process, but totally worth it," Hellsten said. "I had many Zoom calls with coach Goehring. I really like him a lot. I had a quick call with coach Berry. From there, it was a long wait for them to decide who they want to go with. Fortunately, it was me. I feel really fortunate.
"I'm so pumped. I'm going to try to enjoy every second, because I know it's not forever."
Hellsten will join a new-looking goaltending group at UND after last year's starter Adam Scheel signed with the Dallas Stars and backup Peter Thome transferred to Division-I newcomer St. Thomas.
Zach Driscoll transferred in from Bemidji State to play his fifth and final year of college eligibility with the Fighting Hawks. Driscoll, a former Mike Richter Award finalist, is expected to be the No. 1 goaltender. Hellsten and Harrison Feeney, who has been on the roster for two-and-a-half years, will start the season as backups.
"With Zach transferring in, he's regarded as the starter for this year," Hellsten said. "I'm just going to learn as much as I can from Zach. If I get to play, or when I get to play, I'm going to do the best I can and learn as much as I can. I'm not going to set up and say I'm going to play this many games or anything. When I get to play, I'm going to do the best I can and hopefully win some games."
Hellsten's father, Joa, was a goaltending coach. He helped Jakob during his younger years. Through his dad, Jakob also was introduced to numerous goaltending coaches over the years at camps.
He learned to maximize his ability level, despite being 5-foot-11 and not having the typical large frame of modern goaltenders.
"I'm not the tallest guy," Hellsten said. "I've got to rely on my ability to read the play and stay ahead of the play. I have to use my ability to get around the crease and be fast. Obviously, I can't stay deep in my net and cover a lot of area. I've got to be fast, mobile and at the same time, have balance and be controlled all the way. I always want to go play the puck to help the team. Coach Berry said that was something he really liked with my game. I'm definitely going to keep working on that."
Hellsten said academics were an important factor in his decision to attend UND.
"All my friends. . . I think they're as excited as I am," said Hellsten, who received a tour of UND's facilities on Zoom. "All of my friends know North Dakota's history and culture. One of my closest friends played over in North America the last two seasons. He knows very well how great of a program UND is. He's a little jealous and really happy for me, and all my other friends are, too. It's a great opportunity. I'm really happy."
Hellsten said he's not worried about leaving Sweden and living in North America for the first time.
"It's going to be a fun experience," Hellsten said. "If you're nice to people, they'll be nice back at you. I'm going to go in there and stay curious."