There's a story about two hockey players who grow up playing hockey, one following the other's career as a measuring stick. Years later, they end up on the same professional team halfway around the world and become best friends.
If it sounds like a story that is too good to be true, it's not. It's the story of Blue Jackets centers Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson.
Karlsson and Wennberg first met when they were both named to Team Sweden for the 2013 World Junior Championships. For the younger Wennberg, it was special to be teammates with a player he'd wanted to play like on the ice.
"During my whole career growing up I followed his path," Wennberg said. "We went through the same league, he played in the second division. I've always been a year away from him, so I've always been comparing
myself to him."
Karlsson smiles as he thinks back to when they first got to know each other. The two didn't spend too much time together. Karlsson describes himself back then as "more of a clown" while Wennberg "was kind of quiet."
After losing a gold medal to Team USA, the two returned back to their hockey careers.
Karlsson had already been drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011. After playing his 2013-14 season in the Swedish Hockey League as the leading scorer for HV71, Karlsson traveled stateside to play with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL.
Wennberg, meanwhile, was selected 14th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2013 Draft. In 2013-14, he led all junior-aged players in the SHL in scoring and then signed his entry level contract with Columbus at the conclusion of the season.
Both players began their North American careers in earnest in 2014. As it would turn out, it was just a matter of time before they would become teammates again.
On March 2, 2015, William Karlsson joined the Blue Jackets organization in a trade that sent defenseman James Wisniewski to the Ducks. Wennberg reached out to his fellow Swede to welcome him to the team and, when the time came, to the city of Columbus.
Video: CBJ@ARI: Wennberg nets backhand to tie the game late
"It was natural to go to another Swede when I joined the team," Karlsson said. "Wennberg's a young guy too, so naturally it happens that we started to hang out."
While the two found comfort in a teammate who spoke their native language and understood the customs of their country, a friendship quickly grew between them as they realized they shared similar interests and just really enjoyed each other's company.
"I feel like to have another Swedish guy on the team is a good thing," Wennberg said. "His sense of humor is what I like best. We laugh a lot. Even though we spend most of the day together, there's always laughter around us and I think that's great."
Karlsson says the two both enjoy going for a "fika," a Swedish concept of having coffee often with a small snack, playing video games and enjoying sports, including soccer, even though the two don't root for the same team.
The friends have collaborated on "Players Favorites" baskets for the Lady Jackets' annual fundraiser, partnered up on Halloween and holiday "ugly sweater" costumes, and both players welcomed their families to Columbus for the holidays this year to celebrate together. Wennberg is a Manchester United fan. Karlsson prefers FC Barcelona.
Their friendship is grounded mainly in off-ice activities, but their camaraderie also helps them push each other in practice and in games.
"Obviously we cheer for each other," Wennberg said. "We want the other one to succeed and that's the great thing, but at the end of the day we're both centermen. We both want to be great. So we still battle and I think that helps us in the off season and during the season. It helps us become better."
Video: NYR@CBJ: Karlsson goes five-hole to open scoring
Lest you think this friendship is limited to their time in Columbus, the two live just 40 minutes apart back in Sweden and train together daily in the off-season.
"We see each other almost every day," Karlsson said. "Even in the summer, we still hang out a bit."
The two players have formed a bond that runs through all months of the year and goes with them around the world.
"I have lots of friends at home I grew up with," Wennberg said. "But during the past year I've hung out with Bill a lot and he's definitely one of my closest friends now."
While Karlsson will joke that sometimes he "needs a break" from Wennberg, at the end of the day, having a friend like his fellow Swede is part of what makes this Blue Jackets team so special for him.
"It's obviously nice," Karlsson said. "Everyone wants a best friend."
As their friendship has grown, so has their importance to the Blue Jackets. Last season's trade of center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for defenseman Seth Jones created a void in the middle of the Columbus lineup. Over the second half of the season and into the current campaign, both Wennberg and Karlsson have thrived in their expanded roles.
Wennberg centers the Jackets' top line that includes Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad and has been among the NHL assist leaders throughout the current season. Karlsson anchors a line with Matt Calvert and Josh Anderson and has become one of the club's best penalty killers.
The emergence of each has been a key component in Columbus' rise up the standings in 2016-17.