The 520 to the stars

All buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue so people talk about the blue buses as “blue buses”, instead of using their official line numbers. In Sollentuna, an suburb a mere 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm, only the 179 that goes southwest from the commuter train station to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red.

About 35 years ago, a ten-year-old, fair-haired boy got off a red bus number 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and had he taken a moment to take in the view instead of running down the stairs, he would’ve seen a 17th century mansion at the end of a Baltic sea bay, but his eyes were set on one thing only: the outdoor hockey rink.

The outdoor rink is gone now as is the other outdoor rink that was built next to the first one. Both are now indoor rinks, the first outdoor rink being now the “arena”, the second one a very cold practice rink.

On the red-brick walls of the arena there are two large ceramic images of local sports stars. In one of them, the one closest to the stairs that take you to the bus stop, there’s Kajsa Bergqvist, clearing 2.02 in women’s high jump at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

The other image, next to the entrance to the hockey rink, is a large photo of Mats Sundin in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, carrying the puck down the ice.

And from there, Mats has the best view over the bay, that view he may have missed when he took the bus from Viby to Sollentunavallen, the sports center.

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Born to be a goalie

Denmark’s Frederik Andersen just waiting to be discovered

COLOGNE – The hat he’s wearing says it all. It’s a gray baseball hat, with “The Great Wall” in red letters printed on the side. That’s exactly what Frederik Andersen was on Saturday in Denmark’s opening game, when he led his nation to its first win over Finland.

In the nine previous games between the countries since 2000, Finland had outscored Denmark 51-8, but on Saturday, Andersen turned away 37 Finnish shots, or 97.30 percent of them.

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A boy on the bus

“At least 15 people are dead after a crash between a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey league team, a tragedy that struck at the heart of a tightknit city in rural Saskatchewan and immediately echoed through the hockey world and beyond.”

– Washington Post, April 8, 2018

The bus was always my safe place. Well, all cars were and still are. I wasn’t born in a car even though it sometimes feels like it. From the day I was born, I’ve spent so much time in cars, reading, sleeping, talking, eavesdropping, eating, counting other cars, and being bored that cars have become my second home. 

Early on, my hockey bus trips were mostly short and infrequent. Maybe we took a bus to a camp four hours away, once a season, maybe not even that.

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End to Sweden’s CHL hegemony?

As the Champions Hockey League is coming to the end of its fourth season since its relaunch, one thing is clear: Swedish teams have dominated the tournament. All three champions have come from the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), with Lulea beating Frolunda in the first final, on home ice, and the Frolunda team then taking the trophy back to Gothenburg twice in a row.

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Stop retiring numbers

“To you from failing hands we throw. The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
From “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

The highlight of my brother-in-law’s hockey career was when he got a pair of second-hand pants from the club. They had once belonged to Mats Sundin and then been handed down to kids in the same club. They weren’t a torch but they did make my brother-in-law feel a connection to a local hero.

Most hockey fans, and all Canadiens fans, know that line from Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s First World War poem because it is and has been on the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room wall since 1952 when coach Dick Irvin had it painted there for the first time.

The same reminder of the club’s traditions has been printed on the inside collar of the players’ jerseys in 2018.

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The good game

In 2013, SHL team Brynäs realized it needed a new sponsorship strategy. The focus of their strategy was based on ads on the jerseys for SHL but as was and is the case with many European clubs, they had come to the point of diminishing returns. There was not enough space on the jerseys, and each new logo added on them diminished the value of the existing ones.

In short, existing partners didn’t want to pay as much as before and it was harder to find new ones.

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Door 12: Hockey

Tom Petty sang that “the waiting is the hardest part” but sometimes it may also be the sweetest part. Sometimes it’s exactly that time spent waiting that makes everything worthwhile.

It’s all those little things along the way that tell you that you’re going in the right direction even if you’re not there quite yet. And sometimes the things along the way are almost as nice as the big reward at the end of the road (and sometimes they get tangled up together so that it’s hard to say which is which anymore).

These days, you can catch a live broadcast of not only English football, the Super Bowl, and any NHL game you choose but the nichiest of niche sports anywhere in the world – and nothing means anything anymore.

Scarcity creates value.

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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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