A writer procrastinates

I write this, like most things, in my home office which is one of four bedrooms in the house. It’s also the smallest one because, well – don’t mind me – I’m just writing here. How much space do I really need?

I’ve tried to make it an inspiring writer’s room by having photos and paintings on the wall, and on my desk, things that remind me of a trip or a place, or that I just think are sort of cool. They include a Donald Duck figurine that I’ve had since I was four or five, a Peanuts calendar holder I bought in Tokyo, a tiny bust of H.C. Andersen – my favourite fairytale author – I bought in Copenhagen, and a miniature DeLorean Son convinced me buy at the Universal Studios two years ago.

The latest addition to my desktop collection is a flower I bought last week.

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You can go home again

Children have their first idols close. The first ones are their parents and siblings, and then when the venture outside of the house, the cool (bigger) kids at school and sports teams, and naturally, for hockey playing kids in Europe, the players on their hometown teams and then the national team and NHL stars, although things have changed somewhat in the 21st century, with the access to NHL games having gotten better. Even then, often children idols are NHLers that come from the same country as them.

No wonder then that Anders Engqvist, a big, lanky kid who lived five minutes from the rink in a northern Stockholm suburb found an idol who also was a big, lanky kid from a northern Stockholm suburb. Also a right-hand shot, who had also started his career elsewhere but ended up in Djurgarden, one of the oldest hockey clubs in Sweden.

That they’re both right-hand shots and centers also made the comparison between them almost too easy to draw when Engqvist was coming up the ranks. That’s how a local scout described him to Djurgarden and maybe that’s why he had turned down a contract offer from AIK, the other big club in Stockholm.

Of course, by the time Engqvist made his men’s league debut with Spanga in Division 2 in 2003, Sundin had been the Toronto Maple Leafs captain for six years, and had won three World Championship titles with Team Sweden.

Four years after having signed with Djurgarden – or seven years ago – Engqvist led the team in playoff scoring with 13 points in 16 games as they went all the way to the final. They lost to HV71 in six games but five of the six games were decided in overtime. After the season Engqvist followed in Sundin’s footsteps, and left for the NHL when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Since then, he’s played for five different teams in the NHL, the AHL, and the KHL, but now he’s back.

Home.

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Sweden’s golden boys

The area around Sergels Torg, a plaza in downtown Stockholm, is undergoing a facelift and is surrounded by a construction site. On a regular day, the re-directed traffic and temporary sidewalks are a nuisance, but Monday was no regular day.

Monday was the day when Tre Kronor, the nation’s beloved hockey team, returned home from the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, as world champions and suddenly, thousands of people found room on and around the square that is about the size of a hockey rink.

“I’ve been here (as a fan) myself when I was younger, celebrated the championship teams, and it’s wild to be standing here now. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said John Klingberg.

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King Salming’s 1000 games

Every journey to 1,000 games begins with, well, the first game.

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming became the first European to play 1,000 NHL games on Jan. 4, 1988, against the Vancouver Canucks. But when he made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 1973, he wasn’t the first European-trained player, nor was he even the first Swedish defenseman in the League. Forward Ulf Sterner played four games for the New York Rangers in 1965 and defenseman Thommie Bergman made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 7, 1972.

Börje turned 38 during the 1989 World Championships in Stockholm and his teammates surprised him with a cake in the face.

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Cherry picking

There seems to be at least two Hardy Åstroms. There’s the clog-wearing Swedish chef who can’t catch a beach ball, introduced to the world and kept alive by Don Cherry who’s been using Hardy material for decades.

Have you heard the one about Hardy when Cherry he pulled his goalie in the final minutes of a game to try to get a goal with six skaters on the ice. Åstrom, the backup, saw the starting goalie racing towards the bench so he grabbed his equipment, hopped the boards and raced to the crease, the story goes, to make a goalie change on the fly.

“Funny,” says Åstrom, “but not true.”

And then there’s the Hardy that played in the first Canada Cup in 1976, represented Sweden in two World Championships, was one of the first European goaltenders in the NHL, and who played for Cherry in Colorado for a year.

Before Cherry was fired.

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From Sollentuna with love

Buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue. They’re so special that people refer to them as “blue buses”, instead of using their line numbers. In Sollentuna, an affluent suburb a 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm only the 179 going to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red, including the 520.

mAbout 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and from the top of the hill, he could see the view over the 17th century mansion and the Baltic sea bay, a running track, and most importantly, the outdoor hockey rink.

It was his big brother who had got him into hockey to begin with, and the kid turned out to be so good that when he was seven, the instructors at the hockey school considered him too good to play with the other kids, and directed him to the youngest junior team in town. The others were two years older but he either didn’t notice it or didn’t care.

The track field got a bandy and skating rink next to it, and they built a new outdoor rink next to the old one. A new indoor arena was built but by then the fair-haired boy was already an international star and the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His name was Mats Sundin.

sudden

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Hjalmarsson hooked on winning

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Six years ago, almost to the day, the tiny village of Russnäs (population 90) in Sweden was bustling. Right at the intersection off the main road that leads to the big road that takes you to the highway, under the sign that welcomes visitors to the village, there was a big photo of Niklas Hjalmarsson in his Chicago Blackhawks jersey, with a message to the young man.

“Congratulations, Stanley Cup champion” it said in Swedish. Next to it, there was a tin-foil replica of the Cup.

The then-23-year-old defenseman had spent most of his two previous seasons in the AHL but had taken a permanent spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup that season. He addressed the villagers (and thousands of other fans) next to the playground where he had played as a kid, standing next to bales of hay and the Stanley Cup, his voice hoarse from a fun night with his family and friends.

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School of hockey

Dear class of 2016,

Let me start by saying that it’s a great honor for me to be the one that sends you off to the big, wild world with these few words of wisdom. Sure, it would have been even a bigger honor to get invited to a school to deliver them in person, but hey, it’s 2010, who does anything in person anymore? In fact, send me your phone number and I’ll text the words of wisdom to you. There’s only five of them, six tops. Maybe seven.

But, alas, you’re there and I’m here and we need to get this done.

Good luck, be careful out there

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Tappara fails no more

TAMPERE – For three years in a row, Tappara players had to stand on the ice and watch the other team celebrate. Not in 2016. This time, they were the ones parading with the Canada Bowl wearing brand new championship caps, hugging each other, having just beaten Helsinki IFK 2-1 in Game 6 of the Finnish Liiga final.

All three goals were scored in the first period, within 7 minutes and 37 seconds. Juuso Puustinen gave HIFK the lead at 3:21, Patrik Laine, 18, tied the game with his tenth playoff goal four and a half minutes later, and Henrik Haapala redirected the game-winner with 9:02 remaining in the period. HIFK won the shots 20-7 in the last two periods and got the puck over the goal line in the end … only, it came a second too late.

Laine was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Tappara 2016

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