STOCKHOLM, Sweden — You know the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Stockholm 2008 is a big deal if Ogie Oglethorpe is in the house — especially with all the trouble he must have had at the border.
But there was Oglethorpe in the lobby of the Globe Arena about four hours before Saturday night’s faceoff between the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins took place next door at the Globe Arena, a game the Penguins won 4-3 on Tyler Kennedy's overtime goal.
OK, it wasn’t really Olglethorpe, the legendary fictional fighter from the Syracuse Bulldogs made famous in the movie "Slap Shot." Instead, it was a Norwegian, Tore Hofstad, sporting the Oglethorpe jersey while in Sweden, waiting to see a NHL team from Canada play a team from the United States.
That’s called being at the crossroads of the global hockey community, my friends.
Hofstad, who took in the game with his girlfriend, Nena Larsen, and his 10-year-old son Marius, fell in love with the game 25 years ago when a few of his friends started playing the sport in his hometown of Trondheim.
Not long after, somebody told him about the NHL and it was love at first sight. Before long, Hofstad was buying copies of USA Today to fuel his obsession, at least until the Internet — and NHL.com — came along to make things easier.
"We’ve spent a lot of money on hockey," laughed Nena.
She wasn’t just talking about the money the family spent to fly from Norway to Sweden or to buy tickets to both games, but also about the money to land the Oglethorpe sweater — which drew quite a few comments from other fans wherever Hofstad went — and countless other hockey-related purchases.
Seven years ago, they traveled to New York and saw games at Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and Continental Airlines Arena, the former home of the New Jersey Devils. They also went to the 2007 Premiere series in London.
But, back to the Oglethorpe jersey for just a moment.
"I bought it on the Internet because I love the movie 'Slap Shot,'" was his simple explanation.
"Everyone that loves hockey loves that movie," laughed Nena.
Everyone around the Globe Arena Saturday night had a tale to tell about there love of the NHL game as they waited patiently for the action to begin.
Outside, a trio of Swiss 20-somethings fought off the creeping cold before finally moving to a warmer sanctuary in the hotel lobby.
Thomas Geisler, Marco Zberg and Ure Von Deschwanden all traveled from the small Swiss city of Uri to see their first NHL game. They made the three-hour flight to Stockholm today and will fly back first thing tomorrow. But those travel hardships were worth it.
"The NHL show is big!" Von Deschwanden said.
All three were excited to see Martin Gerber, a Swiss hockey hero. But they were also excited to see Canadians Sidney Crosby and Jason Spezza and Russian Evgeni Malkin.
In fact, von Deschwanden was sporting a black Penguins jersey with Malkin stitched on the nameplate.
"I saw him play in the Olympiad in Turin and he was an amazing player," Von Deschwanden said.
Outside the entrance to the Globe stood a group that didn’t care which players they saw, as long as they were Penguins.
For Eric Sinagra, Zack Young, Crystal Kreamer, Sarah Krolikowski and Matt White, the sight of the Penguins would provide a comforting taste of home. All five are from Pittsburgh, but are studying abroad in Rome as part of the Duquesne University International Programs initiative.
So they waited outside the players’ entrance for the Penguins to arrive at the arena for autographs, joking about how they all jammed into a four-person hostel the previous night, how they have no place to stay tonight because they fly out so early Sunday, about Friday’s adventurous flight to Stockholm on a low-budget airline and about how they have sustained themselves on a steady diet of fast food from McDonald’s.
“We’re doing the whole poor college thing,” Kreamer said. “We’re walking everywhere and eating McDonald’s twice a day.”
She wasn’t exaggerating about the poor part.
"I think I spent most of my money for (a semester in) Rome on this trip," she laughed.
They arrived at the players’ entrance at 12:30 p.m., hoping to get autographs from the players — not knowing that the team would not arrive until after 6 p.m for the game.
“We just want to get some autographs,” Singara said. “We’re going to do a big, ‘Hey, we’re here from Duquesne' thing.’”
The Duquesne Five were joined by two other Penguin fans, cousins Tony Armel and Michael Dick. Armel is also from Pittsburgh, but Dick lives in Bristol, Tenn. He was born in the Pittsburgh area, moved to the South before his 10th birthday — but has stayed true to his Penguin roots.
The cousins are staying in Handen, a suburb that is 40 minutes — and two trains — south of Stockholm.
A small inconvenience, they say, in the grand scheme of things.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance as a Penguins fan," Armel said.
For NHL fans the world over, Saturday night in Stockholm was a celebration of the global appeal of the game they love. So they made sure they enjoyed every minute of the party.