We often take for granted the fact that many players in the NHL don't get to play in front of their hometown crowd. Sure, it's no problem if you're from Toronto or Montreal or Minnesota, but what about the Europeans who make up a substantial portion of the league?
With the NHL's Global Series returning to Europe this week, a handful of stars will indeed get that opportunity thanks to exhibition games in Bern, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany. After that, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks will do battle in Prague, Czechia for the first two official games of the 2022-23 regular season.
"I'm really excited," said San Jose's Tomas Hertl. "It's the same building I started playing pro hockey in. I used to go there for games and it's my hometown. My whole family can see me at the same time; it'll be a cool experience but probably really busy for me, too."
Indeed, these marquee events are a way for the NHL to help grow its brand in Europe and with pandemic restrictions waning, travelling across the Atlantic to give those fans a treat is once again more feasible (the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche will head to Helsinki, Finland in November, too).
The importance of bringing the NHL game to places like Czechia is also great for the grassroots game over there.
"It's huge," Hertl said. "I could barely watch any NHL hockey growing up – there was no social media and you didn't get much on TV. For the kids today, just seeing it live will make them more motivated. I can see it at my hockey camp outside of Prague – every time I bring in another NHL guy, I can see on the kids' faces that they want to try even harder."
Hertl's Sharks will play their exhibition game in Berlin against the DEL's Eisbaren Berlin. Meanwhile, the Predators have an exhibition date with SC Bern in Switzerland, which is beautiful for Nashville captain – and local – Roman Josi.
"It's really special for me to go back to Bern," Josi said. "I started playing hockey at four and I played in Bern on their junior teams until I played pro there, then I came over here. I feel there is a special bond between me and the fans, growing up there. It's really cool for me to go back and cool for the people to see an NHL team play with two Swiss guys."
That other Swiss guy is Nino Niederreiter, a new add to the Preds lineup who had played the past few seasons in Carolina. Niederreiter of course has already put himself in the pantheon of Swiss hockey thanks to his performance at the 2010 world juniors in Saskatchewan when he led Switzerland to a shocking quarterfinal victory over Russia. Niederreiter tied the game with less than a minute to go, then added the OT-winner in a 3-2 win.
Josi, no slouch himself as a Norris Trophy winner and frequent international team participant, was very happy to see 'El Nino' join him in the Music City for this season.
"I've known him since we were 14, 15 years old," Josi said. "I definitely called him a couple times and told him to come to Nashville – not just because he's my friend, but because he's an awesome player and I knew he could really help us."
While the Predators play in a tough Central Division, they're coming off awesome seasons from the likes of Josi, Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene, while looking as strong as ever overall. The Sharks are still rebuilding, but have some intriguing pieces to go with veteran stalwarts such as Hertl, Logan Couture and Timo Meier.
There will be a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the teams as they play their European games, but at the end of the day, those two head-to-head matches are for real NHL points. So the fans should get quite the show.