STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - The NHL is in Sweden and hockey fans are ready for it.
Fans filled sections of Ericsson Globe to watch the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning practice and take part in a mini-skills challenge Thursday afternoon. The Sabres have six Swedish players on the trip - Rasmus Dahlin, Linus Ullmark, Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson, Victor Olofsson and Lawrence Pilut - and they certainly received some of the biggest cheers during Buffalo's practice.
"For us, it's really an amazing experience coming over here. I hope the fans over here and the kids that are here feel the same way," Olofsson said. "I hope we can bring some excitement and some joy coming over. We're super excited and hopefully they are as well."
Video: SABRES IN :50
Jack Eichel and Jake McCabe compared the environment to open practices the Sabres have held over the past few years, where thousands of fans have attended.
"It was great. There were so many kids and it's obviously such a passionate hockey country," Eichel said. 'It was really cool. I thought it was a great experience. It's a great opportunity to try and grow the game."
Ready for Tampa
Being the first-overall pick in the NHL Draft in 2018 and one of the most-hyped prospects in several years, Dahlin has had to get used to the spotlight shining brightly on him. He's enjoyed being back in his home country so far, but is set to get back to work.
"I can't wait for tomorrow," Dahlin said. "We're here because we're going to play games and they're important points we're playing for. We're as ready as we can [be]."
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger and his staff have put great efforts into making sure the players were ready both physically and mentally for this trip.
"Our training staff and the people working for the Sabres have done such a great job of giving us all the tools to make the transition as quick as possible and seamlessly - trying to give us an advantage tomorrow and Saturday," Eichel said.
When asked about any conversations he might have with Dahlin, in particular, over the next few days, given all the possible distractions he's facing, Krueger said that he majority of that work was done last week in the preparation stages.
"He's managing it really well. He's excited to play and that's what he needs to be - he needs to have fun through these two games and just play his game," Krueger said. We're keeping it simple and he is too. It'll be a wonderful opportunity for Sweden to see him firsthand and we feel he's in a really good space here."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
The focus during the week in Sweden has been on getting the players physically acclimated to the time change and managing their rest.
"We're just trying to let the players play with what they've learned to date and get them and their energy back up. I think that's what Sweden has done more than anything," Krueger said. "We've got a bit of a pause that's not normal in the National Hockey League. What it's done is charged up the energy of the players, the batteries are full. We're expecting a real high battle level from both teams.
"Tampa's certainly feeling the same thing as we are and that was our primary focus here - let's get refreshed in our minds, refreshed in our bodies and let's use this space to really show the best Sabres hockey possible this weekend."
Friday's game is an 8 p.m. start in Stockholm, which will be a 2 p.m. faceoff back in Buffalo. Fans in the U.S. can catch the game on NBCSN and WGR 550. Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray will be calling the game from (716) Food and Sport.
"There's a lot going on around the game and it's quite the production. The NHL has done a tremendous job of showcasing this quick series. But at the end of the day, there are four points up for grabs and it's a divisional game," Eichel said. "You have to get back into mid-season form and that mid-season mindset of it's too big games and you've got to be ready to go."
Both Eichel and McCabe mentioned that the trip has given everyone on the team the opportunity to get to know each other better. While the Sabres' roster hasn't changed too much from last season, some of the players that have been acquired
"There are some new guys here so it's nice to have a couple days to do some fun team activities and you get to know the guys in a little bit more relaxed setting rather than, I guess, our work environment," McCabe said. "It's really been great. I think guys have really enjoyed it, but with that being said I think we've very excited to start playing some games again and get on with our season."
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
71 Evan Rodrigues
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
62 Brandon Montour - 33 Colin Miller
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 10 Henri Jokiharju
58 John Gilmour - 24 Lawrence Pilut
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark