NEW YORK -- Victor Hedman knows full well what to expect when the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Global Series at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).
And the Lightning defenseman, who grew up six hours north of Stockholm in Ornskoldsvik and played his first two professional seasons for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League before being selected No. 2 in the 2009 NHL Draft by Tampa Bay, is ready to embrace what is to come.
"That's going to be an unbelievable experience," Hedman said earlier in the week. "The fan experience is close to a soccer mentality or soccer atmosphere, drums playing and people standing. That's what I've missed for the past 11-plus years, so I'm super-excited to go back home and experience that again.
"We're there to win games, but obviously we want to take advantage of the few days that we have there and just have a good time."
Hedman, who sustained a lower-body injury in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, has missed the Lightning's past two games. However, coach Jon Cooper remains hopeful that he will play against the Sabres in Sweden.
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"What's going on with him now has never for me been a threat that he's not going to play in Sweden," Cooper said before the Lightning lost 5-2 to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Friday, "so until I'm told otherwise, I don't have to go through that wave of emotions. My confidence is he'll be skating next week and be able to go. If he can't then we'll address it then, but I'm not there yet."
Even with a healthy Hedman, a Norris Trophy finalist the past three seasons and voted as the best defenseman in the NHL in 2017-18, the Lightning have stumbled out of the gate after tying an NHL record with 62 wins last season before being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa Bay is 6-5-2 after a 1-2-0 trip ended Friday. The Lightning haven't played at Amalie Arena since a 3-2 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators on Oct. 26 and will take this week to adjust to the time zone. The challenges of traveling overseas are not lost on Cooper.
"The downside of going down there is you get put in a little of a travel pinch and games get stacked up on each other," Cooper said. "This is part of the hand you're dealt when you do these things."
Despite the Lightning's slow start, Hedman has played well. He's second on Tampa Bay in average ice time (21:39) to fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh (22:21). His nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 11 games are tied for fifth behind forwards Steven Stamkos (13), Nikita Kucherov (11) and Brayden Point (10), and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (10). He became the first defenseman to play 700 games with the Lightning in a 7-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 10.
Three others, all forwards, have played at least 700 games with the Lightning: Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Stamkos. St. Louis entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. Stamkos and Lecavalier could follow him. And with Hedman's game still blossoming, the trajectory of the 28-year-old may also have him pointed toward Toronto following his playing days.
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"First of all, he's an incredible athlete," Cooper said. "Guys are blessed with skill and maybe not size. Some are fast but don't have the skill and all these things. Well, he's got it all. He's got size (6-foot-6, 229 pounds), he's got strength, he's got skill and he's got speed, so now you're one step ahead of the game already. And then he's a competitor, he wants to win. He wants to get better, and he cares. When you have all those attributes, there's a pretty good chance you have a good hockey player on your hands."
The Global Series will be the 12th and 13th NHL regular-season games played in Sweden and 11th and 12th at Ericsson Globe. Along with Hedman, Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (Lidkoping), forward Victor Olofsson (Ornskoldsvik) and goalie Linus Ullmark (Lugnvik) are natives of Sweden.
"It's going to be very special," Hedman said. "That's a cool experience for us to play against one another. I just hope [Ericsson Globe] is going to be painted in white and blue. We have to be sure that we're ready to go; and for me, I just have to treat it like any other game. Don't put too much thought into it, just go out there and play my game."
Playing the games scratches the surface. Cooper cited the importance of the Global Series to promote hockey in Sweden and reach out to fans on a personal level. The Lightning are in Stockholm to earn four points, but the event means something to Hedman, who returns to his roots with a chance to open new doors.
"Growing up, I didn't have the opportunity to see the NHL as much as kids can nowadays," Hedman said. "Both TV and obviously us coming over [are] going to help promote them and even more kids, hopefully, can dream of becoming an NHL player. I'm just looking forward to going back there, seeing kids and friends and family in the stands. Hopefully we can make their dreams come true watching an NHL game."