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Canucks' Swedish players recall outdoor experiences

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER - Daniel and Henrik Sedin grew up playing hockey outdoors in Sweden, but it wasn't always by choice.

While the nostalgia that surrounds playing on outdoor rinks for fun is often linked to Canada and certain pockets of the United States, it was also an everyday reality for all four Swedes on the Vancouver Canucks' roster. The Sedin twins, defenseman Alexander Edler and goalie Eddie Lack all played minor hockey outside.

"In our hometown we have a lot of indoor rinks too, but every school had an outdoor rink and your neighborhood had one too, so that's where you ended up after school," said Henrik Sedin, who grew up in Ornskoldsvik, more than 300 miles north of Stockholm. "You played outdoors after school and then you went home for dinner, and then you practiced with your teams, and for us that was outdoors as well.

"We spent a lot of time skating in outdoor rinks and in a lot of cold weather. It wasn't nice every time, but it was a lot of fun."

The good times are what the Swedish-raised Canucks remember as they look ahead to playing in the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on March 2 at BC Place in Vancouver. It will be the first NHL game held in a retractable-roof facility and just the third time a regular-season game will take place outdoors in Canada.

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For the Sedin twins, it will be a cakewalk compared to the minor hockey games they played outside up to the age of 12.

"It's nice to reminisce, but a lot of nights it was cold and miserable," Henrik said. "When you play games you didn't sit on the bench in between shifts, you went into the dressing room to try and warm up."

Daniel also had mixed memories playing on the same outdoor rink former Canucks' teammate and captain Markus Naslund and long-time Colorado Avalanche star Peter Forsberg grew up on.

Both fondly remember tagging along to the outdoor rink as early as age 3 for their older brothers' practices, playing ball hockey in the snow while their dads coached the older siblings on the ice. They remember graduating to the outdoor rink themselves for the first "six or seven" years of their minor hockey careers, and games that ended with the puck bouncing "like a tennis ball" because of all the snow falling on the ice.

The only thing they Sedins couldn't agree on was the cut-off temperature that would result in a cancelled practice: Daniel said it was around minus-17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) while Henrik insisted it was minus-25 Celsius (minus-13 Fahrenheit).

"I remember our team wanting to practice all the time, but we had a certain limit and it couldn't get too cold or they would cancel practice," Daniel said. "You were always upset when that happened."

Growing up closer to Stockholm, Lack doesn't remember having similar problems. But he does remember playing outdoors a lot.

Lack said there was one indoor rink and one outdoor rink for minor hockey in his hometown of Norrtalje, and his team switched back and forth, meaning he practiced outside a couple times a week.

"The only thing I remember is it was so tough to slide on the ice when it gets really snowy," Lack said, "And growing up I usually wore a toque or a ski mask under my goalie mask when I was playing."

Edler also played minor hockey outdoors while growing up in Ostersund, which is 150 miles west of Ornskoldsvik. Like the Sedin twins, Edler had to keep a close eye on the dropping temperatures.

"A lot of teams around my hometown don't have indoor rinks, and a lot of places only had outdoor rinks, so that's where you played," Edler said. "Sometimes it was a little cold. I think around minus-15 [Celsius] we would call off the practice, but there were times during a game when it got colder and we still played."

Like the Sedins and Lack, Edler has mostly good memories of his time outdoors. Most of it was on a rink that his parents could watch over from their kitchen window, making it easy to let him know when it was time to come in for the night.

"They usually gave me a signal," Edler said with a smile. "It was all good memories, especially all the time you spent on your own, not with the team, but just playing on outdoor rinks, having fun with your friends until you had to go in for the night."

Daniel Sedin also remembers coming in late after a cold night on the outdoor rink, but his ritual with his parents was a little different.

"Anytime it was cold when you came in after practice your feet would be hurting so bad and I remember our parents rubbing them to try and get the blood flowing and it hurt like ... " Daniel said, pausing with a laugh. "It's going to be warmer this time."

The Sedins' parents probably will fly into Vancouver for the Heritage Classic, because as Daniel said, playing in an NHL game outdoors "is probably something you'll always remember."

There's bound to be some reminiscing about all those games outside as kids, but this time they won't need to provide foot rubs after.

"No," Daniel said with another chuckle. "I'll keep them out of the locker room."

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