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Sabres are 'proud ambassadors' at NHL Global Series in Sweden

Spending week in Stockholm bonding, playing two games against Lightning

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BUFFALO -- Rasmus Dahlin can't wait for a taste of home.

The 19-year-old defenseman grew up in Lidkoping, Sweden. When the Buffalo Sabres travel to Stockholm for the 2019 NHL Global Series this week, he wants things that aren't quite the same in North America.

Kebabs. Pizza. Candy. Burgers from a fast-food joint called Max.

 

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"It's not healthy stuff," he said with a laugh.

This could be healthy for the Sabres, though.

They are scheduled to leave Buffalo at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday and arrive in Stockholm at 11 a.m. local time Monday. They will practice Monday and rest on Tuesday to adjust to the time change. Then they'll have two days of practice before playing back-to-back Atlantic Division games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).

The trip will serve several purposes.

Fans in Sweden will get to see NHL games in person, featuring homegrown talent. The Sabres have five Sweden-born players: Dahlin; forwards Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson and Victor Olofsson; and goalie Linus Ullmark. The Lightning have defenseman Victor Hedman.

"We're proud to be ambassadors for the National Hockey League in Europe for that week," coach Ralph Krueger said. "It's a break from all club games in Europe. It's only national teams playing. So, we will definitely be the focal point. That's a role that we're embracing."

The Sweden-born players will get to play in their home country, for their home fans, in front of family and friends.

"You never even dream about that, playing an NHL game in Sweden and having all your family and friends there," said Johansson, who played for the New Jersey Devils against the Edmonton Oilers in the 2018 NHL Global Series in Gothenburg last season. 
"I feel very fortunate to have done it and even more fortunate to get to do it again. It's just something that doesn't happen very often. It's very special. I don't think the guys over here get it. They play close to home a lot, but we don't really get the chance to do it."

Players from other countries will get to see Stockholm.

And the Sabres should be able to grow as a team. They will spend a week together in the city known as the Venice of the North. The first practice will be more about getting their blood pumping and legs moving after a seven-hour overnight flight, but the back-to-back full practices, a rarity in the regular season, will give them a chance to work on their game. It will be like a mini training camp.

"I think it's going to be an awesome experience for us," said center Jack Eichel, the Sabres captain, who grew up in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts. "It's going to give us an opportunity to spend a lot of time together, play some games in an atmosphere that we're probably not used to, something that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. And obviously we're going over there looking for four points."

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The Sabres started the season 8-1-1, outscoring the opposition 37-24. The power play was clicking at 30.8 percent. They were No. 1 in the NHL standings.

Since then, they've gone 1-3-1 and been outscored 15-7. The power play has been sputtering at 15.4 percent.

They are coming off their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season. But after a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Friday, the Sabres played more of their kind of game in a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders at KeyBank Center on Saturday. The lone goal was a fluke, bouncing off defenseman Colin Miller at the side of the net, off goalie Carter Hutton and in. Buffalo outshot New York 27-21.

"I mean, you guys watched the game," Eichel said to reporters afterward. "Did you think we carried the play? I thought we did."

In the big picture, the Sabres are trying to snap an eight-season streak of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have a young core led by Dahlin and Eichel, who is in his fifth NHL season but turned 23 on Oct. 28. They are in their first season under Krueger, who hasn't coached in the NHL since 2012-13 with the Edmonton Oilers and hasn't coached NHL players since he coached Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

They know what they want their identity to be -- connected as a five-man unit, forechecking, physical -- and have shown it for stretches already this season. But they are still being forged, and this will be a chance to take another step amid the hoopla and attention of a big event, something they'll have to handle more often if they become a big-time team.

"It'll be business as usual for us in another environment," Krueger said. "But we do recognize the responsibility that we have, and we look forward to the challenge against Tampa. But it is a week of being able to continue to build on what happened [against the Islanders]."

NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report

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