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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.