STOCKHOLM – The Sens Army has invaded this city this week.
Fortunately, "Sens Army Operation Sweden" – the operational name for this mission – was a peaceful occupation as almost 60 die-hard Ottawa fans have spent the week cheering on their team – and making the city their own; soldiers spreading the gospel of Ottawa hockey and Canadian culture to everyone they engage.
These foot soldiers weren't hard to miss this weekend at the Globe Arena, site of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 series that saw the Ottawa Senators play the Pittsburgh Penguins in a pair of games. No, they didn't wear camouflage. Rather, they were decked out in red Senators jerseys, each emblazoned with the No. 08 on the back and SWEDEN across the nameplate.
Pittsburgh won the opener, 4-3 in overtime to give the Sens’ army one of the only setbacks of the trip. Sunday, Ottawa answered with a 3-1 victory to bolster the already sky-high morale of the troops, who will remain on the ground until Oct. 8.
At that time they will withdraw – not retreat – back to Ottawa with another successful mission under their belt.
But, there is no time to think about ultimate victory yet. There is more for these soldiers to do while they have boots on the ground.
"It's been absolutely amazing," said Bev Crepin, an Ottawa resident that has owned season suite tickets for the past eight years. She made the trip with her daughter, Kelsey, and sister-in-law, Debbie Crepin. "The people here are so friendly."
Let's ask Tim Snelling, another soldier taking part in the team's latest fan deployment.
"We got lost our first night here and this couple saw our pins (of crossed flags from Canada and Sweden) and came over and said, 'You're Canadian and you’re lost,' he related. "They asked where we wanted to go, and we told them we were looking for a restaurant. They took us by the elbow and led us right to it."
With hospitality like that, it's hard not to have a good time. And, it was clear on Sunday night that Snelling, who has supported the team throughout its existence, was having the time of his life.
"The nightlife here is amazing," he said. "Everything about this trip is amazing. I have done a lot of traveling, and this trip has been just amazing. Everything has been just seamless."
Lisa Trevisanutto, the marketing manager for the Ottawa Senators and Scotiabank Place, is the general in charge of this invasion. She prepared the battle plan, relying heavily on the intelligence provided James C. Hanlon, who runs the Hanlon Company. His business plans and books tours of Scandinavia for youth hockey teams based in North America.
Hanlon knows the lay of the land and he was able to plan the paths of attack necessary to see and conquer all the must-see attractions in the city. He has opened the doors to the city's most exclusive restaurants and nightclubs and provided a wealth of recon material to the troops.
“We wanted to put together a package for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Trevisanutto said. "Because of the limited number of tickets the club had, we targeted our club-seat holders, sponsors and other clients and the response was amazing."
Soldiers were volunteering for duty as soon as the invasion plans were announced.
"When we heard about this junket, we jumped on it," said Snelling, the president and CEO of Palladium Insurance.
Snelling, it seems, was almost destined to be on this trip. He is a Senators soldier by birth.
"I grew up a snowball throw from what is now Scotiabank Place," he said. "It was a cornfield then."
Despite being a member of the Senators Army rank and file, Snelling knows a little something about leadership and he believes the success of this invasion by his fellow troops rests with the Supreme Commander, team owner Eugene Melnyk, and second in command, Roy Mlakar.
"Eugene Melnyk has a personal touch in everything he does," says Snelling. "Eugene and Roy spend time with the fans and that is important. It is part of the reason for the success. Eugene appreciates the support of his clients and he shows it. I'm not surprised that this is so well run. Eugene probably personally signed off on it."
Like a good field commander, Trevisanutto has made sure her troops are well cared for. After the hard work of the weekend, she has given the army two free days before boarding the Freedom Bird home.
Monday, there is a commando raid on the Ice bar, one of Stockholm's most interesting landmarks. But, it is will be made by volunteers only. No orders will be given from here on out. Well, no orders except for one.
"So far, we have had a fantastic time," Trevisanutto said. "Stockholm has been so hospitable to us and everybody has had a fantastic time. We just want that to continue until we leave."
Clearly, "Sens Army Operation Sweden" has been a battlefield success beyond anyone's expectations.