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Broken hearted

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Daniel and Henrik Sedin may call Vancouver home during the hockey season, but they’re never disconnected from their mother country Sweden.

The Sedins read Swedish news online every day and last year they stumbled upon a story in need of kindness.

Kristian Nilsen was a budding hockey player in Sweden when a visit to the doctor’s office revealed he suffered from a genetic heart defect that his father had been diagnosed with a year earlier.

The news came as a surprise to Nilsen, who had just risen up the ranks and was set to play for the Brynas Under-20 team. The skilled 17-year-old, now 18, played one game with his new squad before he was forced to hang up his skates forever.

“It was quite unreal because I knew my father has it, but me, no, I didn’t think I had it,” said Nilsen. “I was playing hockey at a pretty high level, in the highest junior league in Sweden, so I didn’t think I had it. I was in shock.

Nilsen explained he could feel something was wrong, but he had trouble accepting it.

“I was sitting in the box and I was seeing black spots. I felt it, but I didn’t want to believe it.”

He had even more trouble believing what happened next.

Still a part of his Brynas team despite not playing, Nilsen was called to his coach’s office and handed a package. It was from the Sedins.

Daniel and Henrik, having read Nilsen’s story, reached out to the teenager sending their support through a personal letter and autographed hockey stick.

“The letter said if I wanted to come to Vancouver, they’d love to have me to see them play and meet me. That was huge. I was really excited. They’re taking the time to send the letter and just thinking of me and doing something for me is quite huge.

“The Sedins have made my life easier.”

Once devastated that playing hockey was no longer an option, Nilsen, who takes daily medication to regulate his heartbeat, has turned to coaching. He has gained the perspective that while he misses playing the game he’s loved since he first put on skates as a two-year-old, he has his health, and his knowledge of the game can help shape future generations of players.

“That was hard to me to accept. You love hockey, you love the game, and then I’m sitting on the couch at home doing homework. Coaching has been better than I thought, it’s good to help people to make their dreams to come here come true and that’s pretty great too.”

Nilsen, accompanied to Vancouver by Brynas IF head coach Tommy Jonsson, took in a pair of Canucks games, both wins, and a practice. He had the opportunity to spend time with the Sedins on a few occasions and each time his smile was as wide as theirs.

“Having to quit hockey at that age when that’s all you dream of is taking the next step and playing in the Swedish Elite League and then all of the sudden you can’t play anymore, that was tough to read about,” said Henrik Sedin, adding that the letter was intended to cheer Nilsen up and provide some positive thinking for him.

“Plus we thought maybe we’d give him a chance to come over here and watch some hockey and maybe learn something.”

The biggest thing Nilsen took home from this experience is the realization that a small act of kindness can have a big impact on someone in need of it.

“When you have something taken away from you like he did, having to stop playing hockey, the game he grew up loving, it’s tough,” said Daniel Sedin. “With his condition too, it’s especially tough. It’s nice for him to come over and for us to see that he’s all right.

“It’s the least we could do to help.”

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