Wings' Swedish contingent is busy this weekend
"I would say the Red Wings could be the second national team back home," Henrik Zetterberg, one of six Swedes expected to be in Detroit's opening-night lineup, told NHL.com. "People are really fired up for this. We have a lot of fans back in Sweden that probably we didn't know about and they'll all come out now."
Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom and Jonathan Ericsson all should be playing when the Wings open the 2009-10 regular season against the St Louis Blues on Oct. 2 at the Ericsson Globe. Another Swede, Andreas Lilja, is injured, but Swedish rookie Daniel Larsson will be the Wings' third goalie.
With their eight Swedes, the Wings have nearly the entire eastern half of the country covered, from as far north as Boden (Larsson), Pitea (Holmstrom) and Njurunda (Zetterberg) down to Vasteras (Lidstrom), Stockholm (Kronwall) and Norrkoping (Ericsson).
Franzen's hometown of Vetlanda is more centrally located in the southern part of the country, and Lilja's hometown of Helsingborg is on the southwestern tip of Sweden, near Denmark.
"This has a huge impact for hockey in Sweden," said Anders Berglund, a former teammate of Lidstrom's in the Swedish Elite League and father of St. Louis center Patrik Berglund. "You have all the great players from the best team in the world and a lot of them are Swedes. This is making a huge impact to hockey in Sweden. I think the games were sold out in two hours, so you can imagine that it's a huge event in Sweden and extra special because it is the Red Wings."
Ever since the Russian Five fizzled out in Hockeytown, Detroit has been the NHL's leading breeding ground for top-flight Swedes. It started with Lidstrom in 1991, and to this day the Wings continue to draft and develop some of Sweden's top talent.
As a result, fans in Sweden, which is six time zones ahead of Detroit, stay up until the early-morning hours just to watch the Red Wings play.
"Now they have an opportunity to see us play live in prime time," Zetterberg said, "and they don't have to go overseas to do it."
For their part, the Wings couldn't be more thrilled to bring their brand to Sweden.
"I think the first time we heard any rumors about (the games), all the Swedes were like, 'That can't be right,' " Kronwall told NHL.com. "It sounded too good to be true. When they finally broke the news, it was a surreal feeling just thinking about it.
"More people in Sweden follow the National Hockey League now because of the fact that there are so many Swedes in Detroit and the team is doing so good."
The only potential drawback could be the time crunch the Swedes will feel when they are over there.
Zetterberg used the word "hectic" to describe what he thinks the experience will be like, and GM Ken Holland thinks the demands, at least from a media perspective, will be "incredible" for the first few days.
"It's not going to be a vacation, that's for sure," Zetterberg said, adding he wishes the Wings could have an extra day on each end of the trip.
The Wings instead departed Detroit around 10 p.m. local time Sunday and arrived in Stockholm mid-morning Monday. They will leave on an overnight charter flight six nights later after playing three games, including an exhibition game on Wednesday against Farjestads BK in Karlstad, a 2 1/2-hour train ride away.
"We are going to have to do a lot of things while we are there," Zetterberg said. "At the same time a lot of family and friends are going to be coming to the game and you want to spend some time with them. You also want to spend some time with teammates, too. We don't have time to do it all."
The demands actually started as soon as the Premiere games were announced. The Swedish Wings spent the summer handling dozens of ticket requests. Zetterberg estimated he'll have between 150 and 200 friends and family members see him play over the two days. Kronwall put his number at around 120 and the list might still grow. Lidstrom said he has purchased 40 tickets and is looking for more.
For a game at Joe Louis Arena, they rarely need more than the two tickets each player is allotted.
"These last few weeks now, with the time getting down to the games happening, it's been more and more text messages and phone calls from family and old friends who would like to see the game and are asking about tickets," Kronwall said.
Even so, fulfilling ticket requests and dealing with the media crush isn't diminishing the excitement these Swedes are feeling. They all dreamed of one day playing in the NHL. None of them ever thought they would get to play an NHL regular-season game on their home soil.
"People from Sweden are asking me every day what date we're coming, when we get there, what the schedule looks like," Ericsson said. "You get that feeling. It's going to be a fun time."