After seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins
go to Helsinki for an exhibition game in 2008, Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom
started to wonder if it would be possible for his team to ever get that chance.
"I started to think that maybe here in Minny, we have Finnish players here so maybe we'll get to go over there and play," Backstrom told NHL.com.
When it was announced that the Florida Panthers
and Chicago Blackhawks
were going to Helsinki to open the 2009-10 season, Backstrom's hopes were rejuvenated.
"I heard rumors and read in the Finnish papers that maybe the Wild could go next," he said. "That's when you think about it and how cool it could be to go there, but there are a lot of things that need to go your way to be able to go over there."
"I heard rumors and read in the Finnish papers that maybe the Wild could go next. That's when you think about it and how cool it could be to go there, but there are a lot of things that need to go your way to be able to go over there." -- Niklas Backstrom
The stars aligned. It's happening next week.
Backstrom, a Helsinki native who still calls Finland's capital city his home, will open the season with his Wild teammates against the Carolina Hurricanes
in Hartwall Arena, a 15-minute drive from his house.
He said his excitement is indescribable, but he can't say his dream is coming true only because Backstrom never dreamt of playing a real NHL game in his hometown.
"When I came over here I was thinking if I go back and play that's going to be for a Finnish team, or maybe in a national team game," Backstrom told NHL.com. "I'm really happy the League did this, Minnesota did this. The people in Finland want to see us there. It's special.
"You dream about playing in the NHL, not playing in the NHL in your home country. Now it's something special."
Backstrom estimated that he has between 15-20 family members living in Helsinki, including his 3-year-old nephew Robin, who is already asking to come down to the dressing room after practices.
"He's only 3, but he tends to go crazy when he can be at the practice," Backstrom said. "He's been (to Minnesota) before, so he knows what to expect."
Robin won't be the only member of Backstrom's entourage getting the V.I.P. treatment.
"The games and getting the points are the reasons we're there and what we're focused on, but for me and the other Finns on the team it's going to be fun to have family and friends at practices and games," Backstrom said. "There are a lot of people who helped me growing up and not all of them can come (to Minnesota) and watch us play, but over there I can bring them to the games, to practice, down to the locker rooms over there. That's something special I can give them."
Part of the experience is being front and center with the media, too. Backstrom, who is about as low key as they come, is prepared to be in the spotlight when the Wild arrive Friday afternoon. Already there is a short press conference planned with him, Mikko Koivu
, Antti Miettinen
and Wild coach Todd Richards
and GM Chuck Fletcher.
"Put it this way, I think I could survive without it, but it's part of the game," he said. "It's a big thing to go over there and play hockey, and for us Finns, we will have to do extra stuff, but it's part of the game and if you have to do it to show NHL hockey to our hometown it's a really small price to pay. It's not going to be an issue. Everyone is happy we can do that because it means we're playing there."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl