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Global Series

NHL popularity growing in Sweden with Global Series

Lightning, Sabres drawing interest on, off ice ahead of games at Ericsson Globe

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

STOCKHOLM -- The kids stood outside the Tampa Bay Lightning's hotel in Stockholm the other day, four or five of them, maybe 12 or 13 years old, wearing track suits from their youth hockey team. They wanted autographs.

And not just from Tampa Bay's Sweden-born star, defenseman Victor Hedman.

They asked other players from other countries, and they used their first names.

"I think that's really where it hits home," said Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, from St. Paul, Minnesota. "They're young kids, but they obviously are following the League. They recognized us right away. It's fun. It's fun to have support like that from the youth here and to give back."


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Sometimes autograph hounds will use cheat sheets with mugshots, because they know they stand a better chance if they use players' names. Maybe these kids did. Hard to say.

Regardless, the point stands: Fans in Sweden, particularly kids, follow the NHL more than ever before because of social media, streaming video, video games and events like the NHL Global Series.

The Sweden-born players will be the headliners when the Lightning play the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Global Series at Ericsson Globe on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).

But the main attraction will be the NHL games, and the fans will want to see all the stars, like Russia-born Nikita Kucherov and Canada-born Steven Stamkos of the Lightning and United States-born Jack Eichel and Canada-born Jeff Skinner of the Sabres.

"Most of them have never seen an NHL game live," said Marie Lehmann, an anchor for SVT, Sweden's national TV channel, which carries an NHL game over the air each month. "That's the major thing. For them, it's, like, 'Wow, I'm going to watch an NHL game live,' which is great."

Video: Sabres, Lightning participate in youth initiative

When Hedman was 12 or 13 years old, like those kids outside the Lightning's hotel, it wasn't quite like it is today.

Fifty-eight Sweden-born players appeared in an NHL game in 2002-03. Fifty-two did in 2003-04. 

The NHL had not yet played a regular-season game in Sweden.

Hedman said he wouldn't stay up to watch NHL games, which generally start from 1-4:30 a.m. here. His dream was to play for Modo, the pro team in his hometown of Örnsköldsvik, or for the Sweden national team.

Many Sweden-born players in the NHL today say something similar.

Now, though, kids can see highlights on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and They can read stories in Swedish on They know the players and teams in depth from NHL 19.

"They know the names," Lehmann said. "They know the way the teams play, the tactics and everything."

The NHL played regular-season games in Stockholm in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2017.

Ninety-five Sweden-born players appeared in an NHL game last season, which started with a regular-season game in Gothenburg between the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils.

Sweden-born Oilers defensemen Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson were having lunch in Gothenburg when they were approached by an 8-year-old boy wearing an Oilers shirt and holding an Oilers hat. 

He asked them where Canada-born superstar Connor McDavid was.

Eighty-two Sweden born players have appeared in an NHL game already this season, just a few weeks in.

It would be a stretch to say Stockholm is like, say, Buffalo or Tampa or, say, Toronto. Most of the time, most of the players are anonymous in street clothes in town, and when they are recognized, it's because they're traveling in packs at a time when people know the NHL is here.

"I'm sure when people see a bunch of guys that are stumbling around that can't speak Swedish, and they know that the games are going on, they probably put two and two together," Skinner said. "Yeah, I don't know, my Swedish isn't that great. It's kind of a giveaway."

The Sabres had a team dinner at an Italian restaurant called L'Avventura on Tuesday night. It was hard to blend in.

"It's tough when 20, 25 guys walk into a nice, quiet restaurant together," Eichel said.

But Eichel was recognized and stopped by a couple of Swedish kids at the mall, when he was low key and out of a hockey context.

"This is a hockey market," Eichel said. "You're in the capital of Sweden. Think of all the great Swedish players you have in the NHL that have come to the NHL. It's such a popular game over here. … It's good for our league."

Stamkos was asked for a selfie while out to dinner.

"We have one of the best Swedish players, and they have a bunch of Swedes on Buffalo too," Stamkos said. "But they're truly NHL fans here too, so they want to see Kucherov and [Canada-born Brayden] Point and myself and the other good players we have on our team. You feel that way for sure."

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