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Swedes Ready For Homeland

by Dave Lozo / San Jose Sharks
It's easy to assume that just because a player is from Sweden that a trip to Stockholm would be no big deal. But for Sharks defensemen Niclas Wallin and Andreas Lilja, the trip is almost as big of a novelty as it is for anyone else who is going for the first time.

Wallin is from Boden, which is in the northern part of Sweden and is about 12 hours away from Stockholm by car. Lilja's hometown of Helsingborg is five hours away, so it's not exactly a day trip for him, either.

Lilja and Wallin have side-by-side lockers here at SAP Arena, and they had no trouble interjecting their thoughts into each other's interview this morning.

"I've got 14 coming from my hometown," Wallin said.

"The whole town is coming -- 14," Lilja responded.

After the jokes concluded, including a particularly sharp zinger from Lilja when he said Wallin might as well be from Finland, Wallin was allowed to talk about his excitement about visiting Stockholm.

"It's going to be a good time," Wallin said. "I know Stockholm a little bit, but every time I go I'm amazed by the city. I'm excited for the boys who've never been there."

Lilja is just as excited as Wallin, but he's in a position where he must temper his enthusiasm a bit. He came to Sharks camp on a tryout contract and has yet to come to terms on an NHL deal. The preseason is over and the regular season is just four days away for the Sharks, but Wallin said he's hopeful something will be worked out before the Sharks face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 8.

This would've been the second straight year Lilja would've played in Stockholm, but a concussion he suffered while with the Detroit Red Wings in February 2009 knocked him out until February 2010. The Red Wings opened last season against the St. Louis Blues in Stockholm, but Lilja was still feeling the effects of a punch delivered by Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber.

Lilja was able to make the trip with the Red Wings last year, but it was only to act as a tour guide to his teammates.

"It was tough not to play. I got to be honest," Lilja said. "I still had a lot of fun. I was kind of like an ambassador for the team. I was showing the rest of the staff a good time in town. It was fun."

Lilja became a free agent this summer, but the 35-year-old was unable to find any takers. Finally on Sept. 15, the Sharks gave him a chance to join the team as a tryout. He's made the most of it and will likely be part of the team's final pairing if and when a contract gets signed.

It's not a great situation, but for a guy who thought his career might've been over, he's not complaining.

"The first couple months, I was just trying to stay positive and trying to get back," Lilja said. "I thought for sure I was going to get back. When it got to be six, seven months, I started to get really frustrated because I didn't know what was going to happen. I had a couple doctors tell me I wasn't going to play again, and then I was really frustrated."

But a third opinion ended up being the best one. He visited a doctor in Vancouver who got Lilja on the right path.

"When I went to his office, I had headaches for seven months. When I left, I had didn't have a headache for three days," Lilja explained.

Lilja explained that some doctors originally thought a clot that was discovered in his brain was causing the headaches. Wallin, listening to the story the entire time, waited for his opportunity to get Lilja back for his earlier joke about his hometown.

"It was just a bunch of blood vessels clogged, kind of like a big fist," Lilja said while making a fist to explain his situation.

Wallin leaned over Lilja and made a fist of his own. "Now that's a big fist," he joked.

Just a couple of Swedes having a good time before they return home for some NHL hockey. The Sharks' plane departs at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday.

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