Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
The Blues Brothers' Excellent Swedish Adventure (Part 1)
When I read on the Blues' website that the organization was offering fans a package deal to fly to Stockholm to see the opening two games of the 2009-10 season, I immediately called my brother Andy. He agreed that this would be a dream come true and just too good an opportunity to pass up, so I quickly signed both of us up for the NHL Premiere event. What two fanatical Blues brothers wouldn't want to travel to Sweden to see the Blues face off against the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings?
During the previous season, the Blues had finally re-established themselves as a decent team, finishing third in the division (behind Detroit and Chicago), ten games over .500 with 92 points. The Note qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2004, yet were swept in the first round by red-hot Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks. So, it was with great anticipation and high expectations that Blues Nation looked forward to the 2009-10 season as the club hoped to improve with the additions of goaltender Ty Conklin (replacing Manny Legace), defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (from juniors) and Erik Johnson (knee injury) and forwards Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald (hip and ankle injuries respectively). Wily veterans Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes (43 goals in 2007-08 and 33 goals in 2008-09) complimented youngsters such as Patrik Berglund, David Perron and T.J. Oshie, while Alexander Steen and David Backes established themselves as high-caliber NHL players. Toughness and grit was provided by Jay McClement, B.J. Crombeen, Brad Winchester, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, Mike Weaver and new-comer Darryl Sydor.
Around 100 of us from St. Louis endured the lengthy ten-hour flight to the Swedish capital, arriving late in the afternoon of Wednesday, September 30. After checking into the elegant Nordic Light Hotel, Andy and I did a bit of sight-seeing in downtown Stockholm after making a stop at a tobacco shop, where I was able to legally purchase a Cuban cigar, and an outdoor coffee bistro. There is nothing quite like sitting in the warm glow of the afternoon Swedish sun, sipping fine, dark-roast Swedish coffee and smoking a Cohiba Robustos Supremo. Yummy! Then it was off to find something for dinner, and we settled for a tavern near the hotel that featured half a dozen televisions showing different Swedish Elite League games. We weren't quite sure what teams were playing, so I approached a guy sitting by himself to find out, first asking him if he spoke English. Much to my surprise, he answered, "Of course I speak English, Rick." It turned out to be Alexander Steen, who then graciously explained what SEL teams were playing. He also made recommendations about what to order for dinner.
We slept the dreamless sleep of the dead that night, travel-weary with fatigue and jet-lag, yet were up and at 'em the next morning on Thursday, ready to go to the Globe Arena for the Blues morning practice and lunch with the players, coaching staff and management. The Globen is the largest hemispherical building in the world, shaped like a huge white ball. Seating 13,850 for hockey, this architectural delight represents the Sun in the Swedish Solar System, the world's largest scale model of the solar system. The four inner planets are also located in Stockholm, while the five outer planets are well to the north in Sweden on the scale of 1:20 million.
After watching a spirited practice, we stayed in our seats before lunch so Coach Andy Murray could welcome us and participate in a question and answer session. Unbeknownst to the St. Louis contingent , the Blues staff played a joke on Murray, telling him he was speaking to a group of hockey fans from Germany. Quite fluent in German, Murray began speaking, only to be greeted with confused looks and blank stares. It didn't take long for him to figure out what was going on, and we all had a good laugh with the bewildered coach. It turned out to be a memorable lunch as well, as the players came in after practice and sat with us, very cordial, affable and accommodating, chatting hockey and signing autographs. Andy and I were both particularly gratified when Patrik Berglund, Ty Conklin and David Perron came right to our table and lunched with us, all three quite amicable and loquacious as we talked about how beautiful Stockholm is and what a pleasurable trip it was so far. Fortunately, I had the good sense to purchase a small Swedish flag that morning (pictured) and had every member of the Blues' organization at the luncheon sign it, including John Davidson, Larry Pleau and Al MacInnis.
Later that afternoon there was a rally at the Stockholm Central railway station, Sweden's largest and busiest station, right down the street from our hotel. All the players from both the Blues and Red Wings were there. Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and St. Louis' Alexander Steen were the chosen spokesmen (in both Swedish and English) as both teams were introduced to the approximately thousand hockey fans gathered there. It was great fun to meet and mingle with fans from all across Europe, especially since the great majority of them spoke English.
We were on our own for dinner and the evening's entertainment. After an excellent meal of Swedish meatballs and potatoes (and more coffee, of course), Andy and I retired to the hotel and after watching some Swedish tv, promptly fell asleep, exhausted from the day's many excellent adventures.