Stars fans, over the next month or so, I will be keeping a diary of my experiences at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championships. This is my first time playing for Team USA at any level, and believe it or not, it’s also my first trip overseas. During this time, I will be writing about hockey, travel, interesting experiences, and really anything that comes to mind. Hope everyone enjoys reading it!
Day 4 – Tuesday, May 1 – Gavle, Sweden
Day 4 of the trip was the most exciting yet, knowing that our first test as a team was ahead of us as we had an afternoon exhibition game against Sweden. It still wasn't entirely easy waking up this particular morning, as my body was still trying to figure out the time change. I honestly did not realize how hard international time changes are. The night before, I had spent what seemed like an eternity trying to fall asleep because my body didn't think it was bed time yet.
Anyhow, once I was up at 8 a.m., our first activity was to get loosened up for the afternoon game with a dynamic warm-up. On days when the game is at night, there is a morning skate to get your body loose and hands feeling good, but with not much time till the afternoon game, a ‘dynamic’ was all we needed. Like most teams after the warm up, we played a big game of two-touch soccer for fun. I must say it was either too early, or the ball was too hard, because I was knocked out pretty quick in the game. Following that was our pre-game meal and then a quick hour-and-a-half nap.
The day was moving fast, and with each passing minute, I was getting more and more excited for the game against Sweden. We arrived at the arena at 1:30 p.m., two hours before the game started. Walking into the arena, I ran into Loui Eriksson, and we quickly chatted to say hi, but then it was all business from there. For the next five hours or so, we were not teammates any longer, but rather enemies trying to beat one another.
For this exhibition game, I was scheduled to play only the second half, but stepping onto the ice wearing red, white and blue was a great feeling. The arena was full with about 7,000 Swedish fans, and I have to give credit to the city of Gavle, their fans were awesome. Also, the lady who sang the Star Spangled Banner was outstanding… being so far away from home and with the letters U-S-A on my chest, I had tingles in me when I heard her sing it.
The energy in the building was great from the start. We started out strong, scoring a quick goal in the first period. Jimmy Howard (of the Detroit Red Wings) played in net the first half of the game, and was great. Once the second period began, I was focused on getting ready for when I had to go in. We scored another two goals before I was sent in, and a little cushion is always great to have. Once I was in net, Sweden unfortunately scored a couple goals late in the second period to bring the game to 3-2. I had my first taste of international hockey, and between periods, I was able to calm my nerves. The third period was much better as we held off their attack and closed the game out with a 3-2 win. I was grateful we got the victory, and also happy Loui didn't do any damage against me personally.
The game itself was very different from an NHL game. There are minor rule changes that were in effect, which I felt slowed the game down too much at some points. The biggest difference, however, is the ice sheet itself. In the NHL, we play on a 200 ft. by 85 ft. rink, and this rink was 200 ft. by 100 ft., leaving a lot more room to make plays. We noticed this quite a bit, seeing how well Sweden moved the puck and how much open ice there was to skate and shoot. Overall though, it was still the same game I have been playing my whole life, so adjustments were made quickly.
Once the game was over, we had our team dinner at the arena. ‘Goose’ (Alex Goligoski) and I saw Loui again after the game and we chatted for a bit, before he had to take off back to Stockholm. We went back to the hotel, and it was to be a quick night of sleep as we are going to be up at 7 a.m. to make our way to Helsinki, Finland. More to come tomorrow from The Big Finn, Kari Lehtonen’s homeland...
Missed any of my blogs? Check out the rest of them here:
DAY 1 & 2