Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
Even if the Blues weren't playing a couple of NHL games in Stockholm, Sweden's capital city is a wondrous and exciting place to visit. Stockholm is the largest and most populous metropolitan area in Sweden with 2.2 million residents, spread across 14 islands on the southeast coast off the Baltic Sea. Stockholm is the cultural, political and economic center of Sweden, accounting for a third of the nation's GNP. Founded in 1252, this magnificent city hosts the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies at the Stockholm Concert Hall and City Hall, both renowned for their striking Neoclassical architecture. Of particular interest and delight was the section of the city called Old Town (Gamla Stan), built on the central island of Helgeandsholmen. Quaint shops, boutiques and many taverns abound in this remarkably historic and beautiful section of the downtown area.
And a tour of the city was what our group of around 100 from St. Louis did on Friday morning, starting with an extensive bus trip around the downtown area, followed by a visit to Drottningholm Palace, the private residence of the Swedish royal family, built in 1580 on the island of Lovon in a municipality to the southwest in Stockholm County. The palace and its grounds have seen many renovations, changes and additions over the last 400 years, the most industrious of which took place from 1907 to 1913 when electricity, central heating and sewage and water lines were installed or updated. Further renovations were made starting in 1977 and completed in 2002, including many elaborate, sumptuous gardens and parks areas surrounding the building. The interior is stocked with an array of gorgeous paintings and sculptures illustrating the centuries of Swedish history and royal lineage. That was followed by a luxurious luncheon, hosted by Blues CEO Peter McLaughlin, on a river boat that took us back to downtown Stockholm.
We were on our own for the afternoon before the Blues would play the first game against the Red Wings that night, so it was a good time to meet my Swedish friend from Malmo, Mattias Larsson, who at the time was the Editor-in-chief of the NHL section at Svenskafans.com, a Swedish online sports service. It just so happened that there was a staff meeting of some thirty or so Swedish NHL sportswriters at O'Learys tavern, a Swedish franchise in Gamla Stan pretending to support Boston sports teams, and Mattias invited me to join them. How cool it was to walk into that tavern and see each reporter wearing the jersey of the NHL team he followed! Mattias and I, of course, were wearing Blues' jerseys. It also helped that several Swedish Elite League games were televised that afternoon, so it was quite a treat to watch them and listen to the Swedes chat some hockey and be able to join in the discussions. Although full from the riverboat lunch, I decided to eat an early dinner at the tavern and once again was delighted with an excellent Swedish chicken and dumplings stew and home-made bread, along with more Swedish coffee, of course.
I decided to walk the two miles to the Nordic Light hotel to work off all the rich food consumed that day, despite a cold, miserable drizzle, which turned into a full-blown rainstorm by the time I got back to the hotel. Of course, by then it was just about time to board the bus for the short ride to the Globe Arena for the game that night between the Blues and Red Wings. As we approached the arena on the highway, we could see it was bathed in red lights, appropriate since Detroit was technically the home team for the opening game. Upon entering the Globe, we saw a veritable sea of red since the vast majority of the 13,850 there were wearing Red Wing jerseys, the favorite of the natives since there were eight Swedish players on Detroit's roster, while there were only two (Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund) playing for the Blues. It didn't help that the seats and railings were all painted red as well, including red t-shirts worn by the ushers. I was able to get one of those t-shirts with "Vard" (host) printed on it in exchange for a Blues
t-shirt I brought along for trade.
That didn't matter to the Blues' fans who attended the game, sitting in the section right behind the Blues' bench. Dave Checketts, the Blues' owner at the time, was quite pleased to see such a large contingent follow the team to Stockholm. As he said to the Post Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford, "When you come over to Sweden and look up and see 100 fans who have followed you (here), you start to realize that you're having an impact on people (in St. Louis)." The players themselves were quite happy to see the St. Louis fans in Sweden and were impressed with all the noise we made, loudly cheering when the Blues came out on the ice for warm-ups. They acknowledged us with smiles and friendly waves, pleased that so many of us took the time and made the effort to cross "the pond" to watch them play hockey. As Steen told Rutherford, "For us, it's inspirational to see that everybody is starting to come out and support us at the rink. Here in Stockholm, it's going to be no different. There's going to be a lot of fans and we're looking forward to it."
To be continued in the next edition of St. Louis Game Time, available on January 13.