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A 'winter classic' with a Swedish twist

by Bill Meltzer
The 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was not the only outdoor game played during the holiday season. On Dec. 28 in Sweden, the Frölunda Indians of Gothenburg (also known in Swedish as Frölunda HC Göteborg) staged an outdoor Elitserien game against rival Färjestads BK Karlstad at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg.

As with its NHL counterpart, the Ullevi game was a smashing success, setting a European attendance record for a regular-season game. A crowd of 31,144 fans packed the soccer stadium to see Frölunda down Färjestad with relative ease, 4-1.

The event was steeped in Swedish hockey culture and Frölunda history. The original Ullevi Stadium was the club's home from 1959 until 1967. The game against FBK marked the first time hockey was played at Ullevi in 42 years. To commemorate the occasion, the Frölunda players wore retro-style jerseys reminiscent of their uniforms of the 1960s.

The club also invited all of the players who suited up in the most famous game played at Ullevi to attend this event. On Nov. 8, 1962, a then-record 23,192 fans witnessed the home side down Djurgårdens IF Stockholm by a 3-2 count. Back in those days, Swedish hockey was still largely an amateur sport, and prior to losing to Frölunda, Djurgården had gone three full seasons without a single loss. Among the Swedish hockey luminaries who attended the recent event were Ulf Sterner (the first Swedish NHLer) and Ronald Pettersson.

The game featured several other touches reminiscent of old-time hockey. The teams switched sides midway through the third period (as happened in two of the three NHL Winter Classics). In addition, transparent boards were installed both to evoke memories of the roots of the game, where there were no side boards, and to improve sight lines for fans in attendance.

Frölunda head coach Ulf Dahlén enjoyed a long and distinguished playing career in the NHL, but even he had never seen anything the likes of the Ullevi game. In the postgame press conference, he spoke of being humbled by the experience.

"This was a piece of history, something really big," he said. "I got goosebumps on my arms a couple times. … And it continued after the game. Färjestad posed for a team picture together with our club. This is big, and it's a picture I'll look at when it's hanging on the wall in the future."

Neither Frölunda nor defending league champion Färjestad are having stellar regular seasons thus far. The team from Gothenburg is currently in fifth place in the 12-team Swedish Elite League. Färjestad is one spot ahead, 17 points off the pace set by first-place HV 71 Jönköping. Nevertheless, both clubs have been known to peak come playoff time, especially Färjestad, which has reached the finals nine times in the last 13 seasons and won the championship five times. In 2002-03 and 2004-05, Frölunda beat Färjestad in the finals. As a result, the rivalry between the two clubs has been especially strong over the last decade.

On this day, Frölunda was the superior club. The Indians controlled the vast majority of the play and did not let up until the game was over.  Afterwards, Dahlén was effusive in his praise for his team's performance.

"I believe this is the most complete game we've played this season, and everything clicked well in this game," the coach said.

Winger Fredrik Pettersson got his team on the board first at the 8:11 mark of the first period. The Gothenburg native and former member of the Calgary Hit Men collected a turnover in the neutral zone, moved in and lifted a shot over goaltender Henrik Karlsson. Just 12 seconds later, a pair of former NHL players added to the lead, as Joel Lundqvist stashed home the rebound of a Christian Backman shot. Pettersson later added two more goals to complete a hat trick. The four goals of support were more than enough for former NHL goaltender Johan Holmqvist to cruise to victory. Third-year player Pettersson now has a career-high 14 goals and 26 points in 35 games.

The attendance figure of 31,144 for this game was an actual count of the number of fans who came through the turnstiles, not just a representation of the number of tickets distributed.  The game has been certified by the International Ice Hockey Federation as setting an all-time European record for attendance in a league game. The old mark was 30,076 set in 2007 for a Swiss National League game in Berne between SC Berne and Langnau.

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