Memorabilia Memories with Rick Ackerman
How appropriate it is that the now-not-so-much-hated Detroit Red Wings are making their only appearance at the TradeStocks Center tonight as I continue the ongoing saga about the 2009 NHL Premiere series in Stockholm between the Blues and Red Wings. Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference a couple of years ago, and the fierce rivalry between the two clubs just isn't what it was when they were in the same division. However, that deep-seated rivalry was in full effect in 2009 and especially in Sweden since the Blues played so well on Friday, October 2, and won the season opener, 4-3, at the amazing Globe Arena.
It was hard to get to sleep that night for the hundred or so fans from St. Louis due to the enormous adrenaline flow from the excitement of the come-from-behind victory over Detroit and the celebration on the bus afterwards as we returned to our hotel. Nevertheless, sleep we did, although I did happen to wake up early around seven a.m. So, I got up, haphazardly threw on some clothes and went downstairs to get some of the fine, dark-roast Swedish coffee I had grown to appreciate and love. As I exited the elevator, imagine my surprise to see none other than Peter Forsberg standing by the front desk. Despite my disheveled, sloppy appearance, I could not pass up the opportunity to go over, introduce myself and shake hands, thanking him for many both happy and unhappy hockey memories from his playing days in the NHL. He couldn't have been nicer. What a thrill, eh?
My brother Andy and I were on our own for the rest of the day until we would go back to the Globe for game two, so I arranged for my Swedish friend Mattias Larsson, a sportswriter from Malmo covering the games in Stockholm, to pick us up and give us another tour of the city. We drove along the Stockholms Strom and Norrstrom rivers that run through the city, and saw incredibly beautiful buildings including the Royal Swedish Opera House (first opened in 1782 and rebuilt in 1893), Stockholm City Hall, the Soder Torn building (the tallest residential structure in the city) and the large German Church in Gamla Stan (Old Town). Our last stop was the most rewarding for someone who collects hockey jerseys (me). Mattias drove back to a shopping area built around the Globe Arena where there were several sporting goods shops that specialized in hockey gear. I was like a kid on Christmas as we went from shop to shop, trying to decide what Swedish jerseys to purchase. I settled for two game worn jerseys; one a Swedish National Team (Tre Kronor, Three Crowns) worn by ex-Blue Christian Backman, now playing in Sweden for the Frolunda HC, the other a local junior team, Djurgardens IF. I also bought two replica Swedish National Team jerseys, one blue and one yellow. That was quite a haul at very reasonable prices. I remember wishing that I had extra room in my suitcase for a few more.
By then it was late afternoon and Mattias had to go to work back at the Globe, so he dropped us off at an Italian restaurant near our hotel that he said was one of the best in the city. And he was absolutely correct. Andy and I split a surprisingly good flatbread pizza and a wonderful pasta dish, light on the sugar and salt, heavy on the garlic. Even better than the food, though, was what happened as we got ready to pay the bill and leave. Four men walked in, wearing jackets and sweaters emblazoned with Canadian flags and one with "Toronto" on a windbreaker. They looked so familiar, yet I knew they weren't hockey players. So, I struck up a conversation with them, asking if they were from Canada and in town for the hockey games (yes and yes). I told the guy wearing glasses that he looked very familiar, but I couldn't place him. He said I should be able to; I watched him at work last night. Yes, it was the officiating crew from the NHL, headed by referee Bill McCreary, who wears contact lenses on the ice. You could have knocked me over, especially so when I blurted out, "Jeez, McCreary, I've grown to hate you over the years!" The other referee, Greg Kimmerly, and the linesmen, Shane Heyer and Lyle Seltz, burst out laughing as McCreary said good-naturedly, "Yes, I get that a lot!" They turned out to be very nice guys and, after allowing us to take a couple of pictures, talked some hockey with Andy and me for a couple of minutes until we left and walked back to the hotel.
We went up to our room and took a short power-nap before donning jerseys and going down to the lobby for an impromptu rally with the other Blues' fans from St. Louis. We were joined by Blues' owner Dave Checketts and the Blues' President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson (now in Columbus with the Blue Jackets), who graciously took the time to chat with all of us and thank us for our support, especially by taking the time and effort to come to Sweden to see the Blues. A happy and excited crowd of Blues' fans boarded the buses, anxious to get to the Globe, anticipating another victory over the despised Red Wings by our boys in Blue.
Please join me for part five, which will be available Saturday in the next edition of St. Louis Game Time.