STOCKHOLM -- Nathan MacKinnon looked up in the stands at Ericsson Globe on Thursday. He saw a group of 20 kids watching practice, watching him, watching Swedish star Gabriel Landeskog. He saw their admiration, felt their excitement and put himself in their shoes.
How would he have felt if the NHL had shown up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he grew up? How much would that have meant to him?
Everything. Simply, everything.
"I remember I was a kid, I didn't have an NHL team," MacKinnon said. "Even for preseason games, we'd get really excited and like to go watch them, and that's when they don't even have half the players on the ice, all the best players."
The best players will be at Ericsson Globe on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, ALT, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV) and again on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, RDS, ALT, NHL.TV) as part of the NHL Global Series when the Avalanche take on the Ottawa Senators. Because these aren't exhibitions. These are real games, games with meaning, games with stars, games that could light a spark for one of those kids.
Games that could make a difference.
They did for Landeskog.
Video: Landeskog and the Avs travel from NYC to Stockholm
The Avalanche captain was in the stands in 2001 when Colorado came to Sweden to play Brynas IF, a local SHL team in the NHL Challenge. And that wasn't a regular season game. That wasn't something that counted.
"That's really the main thing, I think, why we're doing this, to influence the next generation of hockey players," Landeskog said. "When the Avs came here in 2001, I came and I was sitting right in these stands and I was watching Joe Sakic and [Milan] Hejduk and [Patrick Roy] and all these guys playing -- unfortunately Peter [Forsberg] wasn't playing that week and I was pretty upset about that -- but it's something that influenced me for the rest of my life."
Video: Dan Rosen and Amalie Benjamin on Global Series
Now he gets to do that for others.
That, of course, is not the only reason why these games have brought an extra jump to his step of late -- and for months leading up to it, according to his teammates. Landeskog and, on the other side, Fredrik Claesson, have been able to show off their city, to sing its praises, to tour and eat and shop, all in their hometown, all in the middle of the season.
"He's a really happy guy lately," MacKinnon said, of Landeskog. "He's been looking forward to this. If I got to go back to Halifax and play, I'd be really excited too. Any guy, to go back to their hometown where there isn't a hockey team, would be really cool."
It has been the same for the other Stockholm natives, Senators defensemen Johnny Oduya and Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth, and to a slightly lesser extent, the other Swedish players, namely Senators captain Erik Karlsson.
"The game itself being in Sweden, I think means a lot," Karlsson said.
Karlsson was 14 during the NHL lockout in 2004-05, and watched as the Swedish League was inundated with NHL players. They had come to him, and it was thrilling.
"That's the most memorable season that I have growing up, and that's something that got the whole country going," Karlsson said. "So I think that not only here in Stockholm but throughout the country, I think that most people are extremely excited to be able to watch us play Colorado here for two games in Sweden in Swedish time zone."
They would like to replicate that. They would like to be those players for their fans, for their soon-to-be fans, for their country. They have gotten to reveal their city and their nation to their teammates in the days since they arrived in Sweden -- Monday for the Avalanche, Tuesday for the Senators.
Video: Karlsson talks from Sweden after practice
Now, with the first game on Friday, it's time to reveal their teammates, their sport, to their city and their nation. It's time to replicate what the stars of the Avalanche once did for an 8-year-old Landeskog back in 2001.
He saw the players. He saw his future, even if he didn't exactly know it then.
"I always looked up to them," Landeskog said. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I hope that we can influence the younger generation of hockey players the way Peter and [Niklas] Lidstrom and [Daniel Alfredsson] did to me."
That's why these games matter. That's why there's a buzz in Stockholm, one matched by the buzz in the dressing rooms of the Avalanche and the Senators. They know what it could mean to their families, their friends, themselves. They know, too, what it could mean to the kids watching.
And that is everything.