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Global Series

Global Series between Sabres, Lightning 'pure enjoyment' for Sweden fans

Open practices give young, old chance to see NHL stars in person for first time

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

STOCKHOLM -- Each morning, Ture Sodergren watches NHL highlights on YouTube on his phone. The 12-year-old lives in Sollentuna, Sweden, just north of Stockholm. But his favorite team is the Chicago Blackhawks, and his favorite player is Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

On Thursday afternoon, for the first time, he got to see NHL players with his own eyes.

He sat behind one of the nets during open practices at Ericsson Globe, where the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning will play the 2019 NHL Global Series on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).

"It's very cool to see the world's best players live," he said.

His favorite player on the ice Thursday? Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who grew up in Lidkoping, Sweden, looking up to Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.

This, more than anything else, is why the NHL is here.

Fans in Sweden today follow the NHL more than ever before thanks to social media, streaming video and video games, and there is nothing like seeing your heroes in the flesh.

Hedman didn't have the chance to see NHL teams in Sweden growing up. Neither did Dahlin. But when Dahlin was 12, the same age Ture is now, he got to meet Hedman at a summer hockey school in Hedman's hometown.

Dahlin got a picture with him. The memory sticks with him to this day as they prepare to play against each other in their home country with a new generation looking up to them.

"This is obviously pure enjoyment, to begin with," said Ture's father, Oskar Sodergren, while watching Sabres practice. "Just to look at the focus, the precision, the speed of things, is very different. And obviously as you can see from the guys here, they're completely focused."

Ture sat with some fellow youth hockey players of different ages from Sollentuna. They were rapt. No talking. No fooling around with their phones. No fooling around, period. 

"Obviously these guys are their idols, and to have the opportunity to have NHL teams to come play in Stockholm is such a privilege," Oskar said. "So for us to be able to come here and see this firsthand, it's just great."

Not far away sat Tova Hagman, 10, and Meja Ward Weissenberg, 8. The girls wore winter hats representing their club team, SK Iron, from Bjorklinge, about 60 miles north of Stockholm. They wore Lightning jerseys too.

Tova's uncle Kristian Langdell lived in Tampa for 15 years and influenced everyone in the family to become Lightning fans. Tova's mother, Amma-Karim Langdell, said the practice was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.

"Fun," Tova said.

"Very, very fun," Meja said.

Tova's father and 13-year-old brother, Aovin Hagman, have tickets for the game Friday. Before practice Thursday, the only other time Aovin had seen NHL players live was when he went to a Lightning game on a visit to Tampa once. He is a huge Hedman fan.

"It's fun to see him play," he said, wearing a Lightning hat and T-shirt, holding hockey cards of players from around the NHL. "I really like him."

There were hundreds of kids in the stands like them Thursday. Some wore gear from their youth teams. Some wore jerseys or T-shirts of Sweden-born players. Others wore jerseys or T-shirts of non-Sweden-born stars, like Canada-born forward Steven Stamkos of the Lightning or United States-born center Jack Eichel of the Sabres.

"Obviously, yes, the Swedish players are in a league of their own," Oskar Sodergren said. "We don't get to see them very often. After they leave for the NHL, we see them on TV. So when they come home and these guys can watch them play, that is something special. But obviously also you have all the superstars coming."

Who will win?

Buffalo or Tampa?

"Tampa," Aovin said. "They're the best."

Well, we'll see.

"Nobody can miss Dahlin, right?" Oskar Sodergren said. "He's a personal favorite in that sort of matchup. He has a bit of a different way of playing, I think. Him coming up, young as he is, it's incredible to see what he managed to do last year. I like him a lot.

"It's going to be an even fight, I guess."

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