The NHL’s annual migration to Europe for games, plus the trips to Japan prior to the Nagano Olympics, has left five current members wearing the Sharks logo every day who have sojourned overseas for NHL games. This list includes Patrick Marleau
, Andreas Lilja, Dany Heatley, Kent Huskins and Antti Niemi
Huskins went during his Anaheim time and played against the Los Angeles Kings in London.
“It was a great experience. I had never been to London before, so it was a fun way to take in the city,” said Huskins. “We had a week there and took in a soccer game. The crowds really got into it and the games were really well attended.”
For Marleau, he is the only player to have played overseas in a Sharks uniform, but it is just a distant recollection from his second season.
“I remember Joe Murphy and Bernie Nichols wearing kimonos to the games,” laughed Marleau. “That was a culture shock. It’s kind of a blur for me. One of the few things I remember was going to a Benihana type restaurant and they put live shrimp on the grill and you could see them flopping around.”
Besides the unusual culinary experience, the playing surface in Japan was not exactly the standard San Jose and Columbus will see in Europe.
“We were playing on top of a pool, it was a little bit hollow,” said Marleau. “I think it’s an experience. Back then I was still trying to establish myself in the league. Now you can try and enjoy it. Those things don’t come around too often.”
Heatley’s experience was in the same city he’ll be visiting this time for the regular season portion of the trip as the Senators traversed to Sweden. He said fans flying to see the Sharks will clearly be struck by the unusual Globe Arena.
“You can definitely notice it from the outside,” said Heatley. “You can see it from miles away. It’s pretty cool. Once you get inside it’s like any other rink, a good facility. We expect it to be loud in there.”
Heatley enjoyed the experience away from the landmark hockey building.
“Stockholm is a beautiful city,” said Heatley. “You are right on the water and I enjoyed seeing the different shops and restaurants downtown and seeing the people. The people are great. At this level of your career, a lot of guys have been at least once to Europe and it’s fun to go over again. For a lot of the young guys who haven’t been over, it’s cool to see them see a new country and a new way of life.”
Niemi was in his native Finland last year and had the joy of getting a shutout and having his countrymen cheer him on during the game like Douglas Murray
, Niclas Wallin and Lilja may experience.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Niemi. “We got the victory and the shutout. Hockey is number one in Finland and it is huge in Sweden too.”
Lilja had the opportunity to go to Stockholm with a Swedish laden Detroit squad.
“It’s a really fun experience,” said Lilja. “With Detroit, we had so many Swedes, but I think all of the guys, the Canadians and the Americans, they had fun too. I think it’s good for the game. We show off the game in Europe and we sell jerseys and TV rights.”
Lilja is not a Stockholm native, so he will do like everyone else and let Murray lead the way. Lilja says playing in his homeland will put him in the same position of his North American brethren when it comes having to pick up the check for family and friends.
“It was great,” said Lilja. “My wife and kids stayed in Sweden and waited for that game to happen, so it was a lot of fun. As soon as I find out I’m going to stay, the phone will start ringing. Overall I had 25 or 30 tickets (last time).”
Having to worry about tickets for friends and family is something Lilja normally watches the North American players deal with. Still, it is clearly worth it.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, well twice now,” said Lilja. “It’s good for the Swedish people to see a live NHL game. It is a lot faster and a lot quicker.”
From the sounds of the five who have been there before, it is just as good for NHLers to go play games around the world.