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More than a hockey exhibition

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
GOTEBORG, Sweden — Nick Foligno spotted the familiar face standing by the boards at the Scandinavium and couldn't wait to reacquaint himself.

"Hey, get your gear on," the Senators forward shouted at Erik Karlsson, the young Swedish defenceman who — if all goes as planned — will join Foligno in the Ottawa lineup sometime in the very near future.

Karlsson, the slick blueliner with top-end skills selected by the Senators in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, got to know Foligno and several of the Ottawa's best young prospects well during the Sens’ annual development camp at the end of June. He'll see a different side of the team on Thursday night, when Karlsson's Frolunda Indians face the Senators in what has to rate as one of the most anticipated hockey events ever in Goteborg.

And what an event it will be. The 12,044-seat Scandinavium sold out for this game long ago and the raucous party atmosphere some Senators players witnessed Monday night during a Swedish Elite League game between Frolunda and Rogle should be ratcheted up tenfold.

Though he's said he hopes it's the only time he ever faces off against his future National Hockey League team, Karlsson is clearly looking forward to this opportunity. So, too, are his Frolunda teammates and the hockey fans in this port city of 510,000 on Sweden's west coast.

"It’s going to be a great game for everybody, I think," said Karlsson, who dazzled Senators management with a goal and assist in Monday's 4-1 victory over Rogle. "It’s not every day an NHL team comes over here and plays. It’s going to be great."

Foligno, for one, can't wait to line up against his future teammate.

"We’re looking forward to playing against (Karlsson)," said Foligno. "He’s a great kid with a lot of skill and potential and it’s nice to see him out there. It’s going to be fun to play against him. I think it’s going to be nice for him, too, to get to play against (what is), hopefully, his future team. I’m sure we’ll see him in a Sens uniform sooner rather than later."

No doubt the Indians also see a rare chance to see how they stack up against competition from the best hockey league in the world. And not just any team, but one that features one of Frolunda's all-time greats — Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

"(Against) NHL players, they want to prove themselves and say ‘we’re not too bad ourselves’ and a lot of them are good players," said Alfredsson. "The first period, we have to play smart and if we can keep it close, I think we’ll take over as the game goes along. But on the bigger (international-sized) ice, I think they have a big advantage."

Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg and a number of his players saw the Scandinavium hockey environment first-hand on Monday and think it'll help put them in the right frame of mind for this weekend's NHL Premiere season-openers against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm.

"That’ll be good for our team," said Hartsburg. "If it’s an intense game and very competitive, that’s good for us. We want that environment. We want a game that we have to play our best in."

Added Foligno: "What a great atmosphere they have here. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be almost like a playoff atmosphere. They’re going to be cheering the whole night, I’m sure. It’s going to be a great event and we’re looking forward to going out there, playing well, and showing the fans and the people here what NHL hockey is all about. It’s going to be exciting."

But while the game is merely a final tuneup for the Senators before the regular season begins, defenceman Chris Phillips said they have to be very aware that this one means a lot more than that to Frolunda and its rabid fans.

"If there’s guys thinking we’re going to come in and show the rest of the world how the NHL plays, then they will be surprised because they’re highly skilled players over here," he said.

Even though he'll be wearing a visitors jersey, Alfredsson expects a warm reception from the fans — even if he finds the back of the Frolunda net for a goal.

"I think it’s a great treat for them, so I don’t think they’ll be rooting against us," said Alfredsson. "I think they’ll be rooting for good hockey and a good game, and they want to see how Frolunda measures up against us. I think it’ll be a really good atmosphere."

Karlsson wouldn’t suggest how he feels Alfredsson will be received by Frolunda's fans, but his mischievous grin hinted that he already knows the answer.

"You'll see tomorrow," he said.

Around the boards

Following this morning's practice at the Scandinavium, Alfredsson met with a group of underprivileged youngsters from a local Fryshuset, a YMCA-type organization. They arrived at the rink clad in red Frolunda-Ottawa souvenir T-shirts the Indians have created for the big game. And every one of them left beaming after their hometown hockey hero sent them all away with autographs and some kind words. The meeting was arranged by the Canadian embassy in Stockholm and ambassador Alexandra Volkoff ... Senators forward Dany Heatley had everyone talking after his hard wrist shot broke a pane of glass attached to the rink boards.

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