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Global Series

Johnson, Gourde brave heights of Vasa Museum, including ship's main top

Lightning forwards' time at Global Series includes walk on platform 150 feet above keel

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

STOCKHOLM -- "You OK?" Yanni Gourde asked.

"I don't know," Tyler Johnson replied. "I'm scared."

Johnson wasn't sure he wanted to walk onto a platform like the one where sailors unfurled the main topsail on the wooden warship Vasa in the 1600s. Back then it swayed on the main mast about 150 feet above the keel. Now it jutted out on a balcony on the sixth floor inside the Vasa Museum. The bottom floor, as if it were the brackish Baltic Sea, was a long way down.

But Johnson and Gourde wanted to experience Stockholm while in town to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning against 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).

A sign in Swedish and English read: "Kliv upp i märsen! Step out onto the main top!"

And so out Johnson stepped.

Here he was tip-toeing around the main top with Gourde after practice Monday. Imagine what it would have been like in the wind and the waves.

"I'm scared and this thing's stationary," Johnson said as he stepped off. "OK, I'm done."

This trip is about more than hockey for the Lightning and Sabres. For Sweden-born players, it's a chance to come home.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, from Ornskoldsvik, about 5 1/2 hours north, said he was going to see one of his closest friends after practice Monday.

For players from other countries, especially the United States and Canada, it's a chance to step outside of their comfort zones.

Johnson is from Spokane, Washington; Gourde is from Saint-Narcisse, Quebec. Even though they had just skated, they walked through the cobblestone streets and arrived at the Vasa Museum not long before the sun set at 3:48 p.m. local time. They climbed stairs from floor to floor and stayed on their feet at the exhibits.

It was worth it.

"I'm not in Sweden too often," Johnson said. "This is my first time. So kind of want to go see all the sights, want to get the history, understand things. …

"I mean, this was even more than I thought."

The Vasa Museum is the biggest tourist attraction in Stockholm, in more ways than one. Millions of visitors have come to see the Vasa. Built top heavy in 1626-28, she sank in Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage in 1628. But she was salvaged almost intact in 1961, and in the current museum since 1988, she has been a massive, magnificent monument.

Gourde and Johnson wandered through exhibits on the Vasa's women. They learned how the ship sank and how it was salvaged. They climbed into a full-scale model of the upper gun deck and checked out the cannons, marveling at cannonballs with spikes.

They learned about daily life on the vessel. Let's just say the sailors did not have the Lightning's medical staff.

"The barber was in charge of medical care," Gourde said, pointing to a plaque that said the barber performed blood-lettings, prepared medicines, bandaged wounds, amputated limbs and pulled out teeth.

"The barber?" Johnson asked.


"Interesting job."

Johnson pointed to the only gold object recovered from the wreck, a ring that might have belonged to vice admiral Erik Jönsson.

"No relation," Johnson said.

"No relation?"

"I don't think so."

The more they toured, the more they learned, the more Gourde and Johnson wanted to tour and learn more. Martina Siegrist Larsson, the museum's information officer, caught up with them and asked if they had any questions. They peppered her.

Finally, they met a few of the sailors themselves, their bones at rest in display cases.

"It's really impressive, the size of the ship and knowing it was built in the 1600s," Gourde said. "It's so much history, and it's really nice to have a chance to come here and see for ourselves."

Said Johnson, "It literally came out of the water in one piece and [they were] able to get it up here. A sight to behold."

Just not a sight to behold from, you know, the main top.

"Oh, that was scary, yeah," Johnson said. "Not at all."

"I would hold the pole and be like, 'Ahh!'" Gourde said, his voice mimicking a scream.

"Being up there," Johnson said, "is probably the last spot I'd want to go."

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