Gothenburg, Sweden Sweden was definitely a dream vacation for this Canadian hockey fan. After being in Saudi Arabia for 6 weeks, journeying to Sweden was like going back home. I don’t mean to downplay the Swedish experience by saying that Sweden is Canada’s European cousin, but it really is.
Autumn was in full swing and I felt all warm and Halloweenie inside. Not even two months earlier, I was under the impression that I was going to have an Autumn-free year once I left Canada, and that made me sad. Autumn, to most of us, signifies the start of hockey season. With no colourful leaves (Leafs) on the trees or chills in the air, Saudi Arabia had kept me in a perpetual state of Offseason. So, Sweden was necessary to really get me back into game mode.
The weather wasn’t the only Canadianesque thing about Sweden. I loved that I could walk into any bar and hockey would be on all the screens in the joint. Some of the hockeyiest ports in the States don’t even show that much puck at the local watering holes, if they show any hockey at all! I was also lucky enough to be in Gothenburg over Thanksgiving. As usual the NHL held a cornucopia of matinee games to celebrate, which meant that I was able to watch hockey in real time, in a real bar, with a real beer, like a real girl! But it wasn’t just NHL hockey adorning the TVs. Both the SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan (Tier II) games would be followed with great intensity.
The passion from the SHL fans was a bit hard for me to digest. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. It’s just that I found it hard to understand. Until I made it to my game at Scandinavium, the rinks of the Swedish League seemed so, um, amateurish. I felt like I was in junior hockey barns, yet the fans reached college hockey decibels, and the games had NHL-like importance. As for the on-ice product, all the games I saw seemed to follow some sort of formula. Perhaps it’s the defensive nature of SHL hockey, but each game was low scoring, and I almost always saw the trailing team gain the lead midway through the 3rd and force OT. Anyway, I didn’t really know what to make of that and I guess I struggled to find the right column to file my SHL experiences under. But I suppose, at the end of the day, all I can say is that SHL hockey is SHL hockey.
Scandinavium, as an arena and game experience, helped me to put the SHL into terms I could understand. The arena was quite large, and would have been big enough to house an NHL club back in the day. They had REAL concessions, too! Not the typical strange looking hotdogs and coffee that I have come to expect from European arenas. Even the rink was configured in a way that seemed a little more “North American” to me. Up until that night, “rink side” meant that you were sitting a good 10 feet away from the glass. In the home of the Frolunda Indians, however, you could get up close and personal with the game, as I have come to prefer. “Sadly,” this also meant that for the first time on my trip, the Swedish men on the ice could creep all over me like the rest of the damn population. This configuration also cemented the inevitability that old-flame drama would be on the menu that night.
I mentioned before that a significant player from my past was now calling the SHL home. Honestly, I didn’t know about this until I started entertaining the idea of Swedish hockey. He’s not someone I think about often, but if I was going to be all the way in Sweden specifically for hockey, well, why wouldn’t I make a point to see how his career was going? He was my first, after all. Anyway, the glass configuration I just mentioned, ensured that he was more than aware of my presence that night as well…
It kind of makes me laugh, you know. When I go to the game of one of my “historical” players, I mean. Take this guy, for example. The last time I “saw” him was 5 years ago, and by “saw” I mean *ahem,* but when he saw me in my seat that night it was like 5 years was more like 5 seconds. There wasn’t a double take, or any sign of shock or surprise that I was there… IN SWEDEN! It was like he, and possibly all “my players” know me well enough to know that this is just me. That I am the kind of girl that could show up in LA one day and Montreal the next – even when I’m not living on the damn continent! Sometimes I wonder if some of them make a point to scan the stands for that crazy fucking Psycho Lady every night they take to the ice. Maybe this guy has been doing the psycho scan on every game day for the past 5 years, or maybe even as many as 11 years worth of puck drops! Hmmm….. Maybe I’m their superstitious pre-game ritual!
Seeing him again made me think about how both our lives have changed over these 11 years. After the game, as I walked the 2 kms back to my hotel room, kicking the orange and yellow leaves up from the ground with my Middle Eastern footwear, I thought about how effortless these enormous hockey adventures have become. I can still remember the terror of crossing the border for my first US hockey road trip at 19, and the uneasiness I felt on the plane the first time I set off to Europe for hockey at 23. Here I was in Sweden, alone, traveling around the country like I had been living there for years. It’s kind of scary how I have truly finessed the art of extreme hockey travel.
Of course, being a more efficient traveller isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I was definitely no stranger to wishing bloody career ending injuries on players I did not care for in my youth. If a player found himself in my doghouse, well, I’d be doing a little Clint Malarchuk-esque damage to a poor unsuspecting voodoo doll. However, with age I seem to have softened and forgiven whatever injustice I felt had befallen me, or maybe it’s just my pre-30 crisis. Unlike men, who seem to think that dating 17 year olds is the only way to get over turning the big 3-0, I seem to crave a good old fashioned retrospective ego boost. So, where I once wanted to see certain players fail, now I would much rather see them flourish, so I can remember, for my own selfish reasons, that at one time in my life I was 100+ points/season good (if you know what I’m saying).
11 years ago, my little SHL “friend” was supposed to be the next big thing. “The biggest signing since [Enter Legend’s Name Here]!” all the reporters had said. As for me, well, all I can say is that he had apparently told all of his friends that I was the hottest girl he had ever been with and I had allegedly raised the bar for all his future “endeavours.” I’m not sure I’ll ever believe that, but that’s what his friends said. 11 years later and no NHL renewals meant he was on a one-way trip to Sweden to rebuild his life. And we all know that I have been bouncing around the planet trying to find something that works out, too. Oh, and I’m quite sure that, after 11 years, no member of the roster of men that have seen me naked would claim that I was the hottest name in their little black book either. So, I guess neither of us really lived up to our “hype.”
However, for one night in Scandinavium, I was able to remember a time when we were both the best there ever was. A time that we were just bursting with potential and turning 30 wasn’t even a distant shadow on our horizon. I know my life is definitely not going as planned, and maybe his isn’t either, but I will say that I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the greatest player on the planet that night in Gothenburg.
5 years ago I didn’t think I’d ever see him again, and quite frankly, I never even bothered to see a game while he still had an NHL contract. That’s one of the sad things about youth. We think everything is limitless. We think we will see (or play) an endless amount of hockey games, but the truth is all of our days and our games are numbered. I dread the day that the players of my generation begin to retire, or I stop being restless and start to settle down for a more sedentary life – whichever comes first. I guess that’s the ultimate lesson that I will take away from my night in Scandinavium. Don’t put off until “next time,” what you can do NOW. Someday I will walk out of a hockey rink for the last time, and for all I know that day could have already happened. Take note, Psycho Lady stand scanners! As for my “friend,” well, I doubt our paths will cross again, unless his life/career find a way to intersect with mine again. Maybe I’ll be back in the SHL (when I have another $5000 burning a hole in my pocket!), but for now my attention has fallen to the Czech Extraliga.
Next Stop: Prague?
P.S. Have you noticed that I stopped posting pictures on here?!? Good for you! Follow me on Instagram for photos from all my crazy misadventures!