STOCKHOLM -- Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, then 21-years-old, remembers staying in his hotel room and watching movies with former teammate Patrik Berglund when he was here to open the 2009-10 season with the St. Louis Blues.
Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard recalls a better experience when he was here to open the 2010-11 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Brassard, 23 at the time, went to watch horse racing and participated in some dirt track car racing with teammates.
They were young, somewhat naive, excited to be professionals but not necessarily aware of the significance of the experience they were getting as NHL players playing regular-season games in Europe.
Now, with maturity and perspective on their side, they've returned to Stockholm to play two games in the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series, and it's obvious that their appreciation level for where they are this week and what they're getting to do has gone up from when they were doing the same thing in their early 20s.
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The Avalanche and Senators play Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN5, RDS, ALT, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, RDS, ALT, NHL.TV) at Ericsson Globe, where Johnson and the Blues defeated the Detroit Red Wings twice in 2009, and where Brassard and the Blue Jackets split a pair of games against the San Jose Sharks.
"When I went eight years ago I don't think I thought I'd come back again for an NHL game," Johnson said after Colorado's practice Thursday. "When you're younger, you kind of just take it for granted. When you're older, you appreciate the atmosphere and what you're doing. It's pretty cool to play NHL games here in Europe and not a lot of people get the chance to, so I definitely think you have to soak it up a little more."
Johnson said he remembers hoping Berglund, who is from Vasteras, Sweden would want to take him out and show him around town, give him a taste of Swedish life eight years ago.
"But he wanted to stay in the room too," Johnson said, laughing. "This time around I wanted to get out and see all I can."
He went shopping Wednesday. He also found a local harness race track, the same one Brassard went to seven years ago, and went there with teammates for some action and dinner. He said he has been walking around the city, trying as many different restaurants as he can.
"It's such a cool city," Johnson said.
Johnson said his one memorable takeaway from the two games against the Red Wings in 2009 was the reaction after the Blues won each game.
"We went back to the hotel and fans were everywhere," he said. "It felt like we won a playoff series or something like that. It felt like a really big deal so it was a cool experience."
Johnson said he senses the buildup to the Global Series games has created an even bigger buzz in Stockholm than the Premiere Games did eight years ago.
"I feel like there is more of a [media] presence," he said. "Granted, I think the League has grown substantially since the last time we were here too so that's probably part of it and the fact we have quite a few Swedish players on both teams."
Brassard said former Swedish NHL forward Kristian Huselius was the Blue Jackets' tour guide seven years ago. Forward Samuel Pahlsson and defenseman Anton Stralman were the other Swedish players with the Blue Jackets at that time.
"I remember we had an unreal time," he said.
He has vivid memories of some of the sights too. In fact, Brassard said he was pointing out places he remembered to Senators defenseman Fredrik Claesson, a Stockholm native, during the team's bus ride from the airport to the hotel in downtown Monday.
"I was right too," Brassard said. "It was almost like a flashback. He was pretty impressed."
Johnson's memories are more teammate-centric. Months ago, when he initially found out the Avalanche were coming here to play the Senators, he started to think about who he played with in Stockholm eight years ago.
Berglund and Alexander Steen were the only Swedes who played for the Blues.
"We had veterans like [Keith] Tkachuk and [Paul] Kariya," Johnson said. "It's amazing how much time has passed and where those guys are now. Then, I was thinking the other night, feeling really old, because the guy that assisted on my first NHL goal was Doug Weight and he's on the bench [coaching] the [New York] Islanders, and then Kariya was the second assist and he's going into the Hall of Fame. I'm like, 'Jeez, I'm getting old,' but it's cool to think about memories like that."
Brassard tried to make memories for some younger players Thursday.
Through a connection he has from former New York Rangers teammates Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello, Brassard met up with a friend, Patrik Hansson, whose son, Liam, is 15 and plays for an under-16 team here.
He introduced Liam and his friends to Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is arguably the most popular Swedish hockey player in the League.
"That made their day," Brassard said.
He also realizes how special it is for Karlsson and Stockholm natives Claesson, Senators defenseman Johnny Oduya and Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog to get a chance to play NHL games here, in front of their families and friends.
"I have that chance in Ottawa every night and it's pretty cool," said Brassard, who is from Gatineau, Quebec. "For me, personally, I'm 30 and I try to take this all in and just enjoy it because five, six, seven, eight years from now I might not be playing. It's a really cool experience."