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From Ottawa to Stockholm: Experiencing the opening of 2008-09

By Tait Simpson

Through a combination of luck and perseverance, my life-long Senators-fan travelling companion and myself landed two tickets to watch the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins officially begin their Stanley Cup pursuits in Stockholm, Sweden.

Each ticket set us back about 775 Swedish kronors (roughly $110 Canadian). A bit steep, but the perfect opportunity to combine Senators hockey with an introduction to Scandinavia.

We were a little rushed finding the Globe Arena – the world’s largest spherical building, which lights-up in neon blue at night – on Saturday evening. I finally made it to my seat after a splendid ride on Stockholm’s public transport system. For any Ottawa fan accustomed to the, sometimes, one-hour drive from the city to Kanata for a home game, the 10-minute subway ride from downtown Stockholm was bliss.

Before heading in to take a seat, I swung by the concessions stand to celebrate my arrival with a frothy beverage. After asking for a beer, I was served a warm, plastic bottle of Norrlands Guld. It was watery and only had 3.5 percent alcohol. When I asked if there might be any cold beer the young lady politely smiled and said, “No.”

Apparently, in an attempt to cut down on drinking, the Swedish government made it illegal to sell beer above 3.5 percent alcohol content without a special license.

Once I took my seat, properly decked out in Senators gear, it quickly became clear nobody had told the notoriously fashion-conscious Swedes most NHL fans view attending a game as a chance to don a jersey, maybe a hat and relieve some stress by yelling at the opposing team. The Saturday night crowd, except for the 1,000 or so Ottawa and Pittsburgh fans who made their way over, arrived in fashionable black suits, most with matching black shirts underneath.

The corporate Stockholm crowd, which seemed to have come straight from a Norrlands Guld-sponsored fashion show, overran the small number of Swedish fans wearing Swedish Elite League jerseys.

And, alas, the famous women of Sweden were not in attendance; both games, with sell-out crowds of 13,699, were almost completely male-only affairs.

The spherical arena provided good sightlines from every seat, although the first row of the bottom bowl was about four metres removed from the glass because the games were played on NHL-sized ice surfaces, not the international-sized ones the arena is designed to house.

For most of both games, the Swedish crowd sat quietly, the introduction of Mats Sundin for the ceremonial opening faceoff being the one exception. Sundin was greeted with an ear-splitting ovation in his hometown.

Just to emphasize not all Swedish players get similar receptions, an interview with former Senator’s right winger Andres Dackell was met with a collective yawn.

While the arena itself was grand, the food selection was slim. The counters selling food gave you the option of popcorn and a few dozen varieties of candy and hotdogs, with the dog twice the length of the bun.

Many of the fans wanted a souvenir of the occasion. The canary yellow t-shirts, marking the event, sold fast. No one stopped, including my co-traveller, to ask whether 250 Swedish kronor ($36) might be better spent on anything other than a bright yellow t-shirt.

Scattered throughout the corporate Stockholm crowd were some die-hard Scandinavian fans. Daniel and Petrus, seated next to us, made an eight-hour drive from northern Sweden. Another couple took the four-hour ferry from Finland.

According to reports, the NHL is looking to have six teams open the 2009-10 season in Europe.

Road trip anyone?


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