NHL tabs Lightning for two regular-season games in Sweden

In November, Tampa Bay will face off twice against Buffalo in Victor Hedman’s homeland
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman represented his native Sweden in a 2016 World Cup of Hockey exhibition. Returning to his homeland with his Tampa Bay teammates next season will be another career highlight. [AP Photo/Nick Wass]
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman represented his native Sweden in a 2016 World Cup of Hockey exhibition. Returning to his homeland with his Tampa Bay teammates next season will be another career highlight. [AP Photo/Nick Wass]
Published March 21
Updated March 21

WASHINGTON — For 10 years, Victor Hedman has watched other teams play in Sweden with envy.

Now, it will be his turn.

He and the Lightning will take the ice at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm to play two regular-season games against Buffalo Nov. 8 and 9 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

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“Once I heard the rumors, I started really pushing for it,” Hedman said. “You’re probably only going to get this chance once in your career, go back home to play with my team, who I’ve been with for over 10 years. It’s going to mean a lot to me to go home and play with these guys.”

Hedman is one of two Swedes currently on the Lightning. Anton Strålman is in the final year of his contract, making his status for next season uncertain.

Stockholm isn’t quite home — Ornskoldsvik is about five hours away — but it’s Sweden and that’s close enough.

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The league approached the Lightning about participating in the Global Series and Julien BriseBois thought it was a good way to keep things interesting in a long season. This will be the team’s second trip to Europe, having played two games against the New York Rangers in Prague, Czech Republic.

“Everyone’s excited,” he said. “I’m excited. You get to play in a different city, different venue, in front of a very passionate hockey fan base. It’s a new experience. It’s a life experience. When you travel abroad, you come back a richer person.”

Hedman plans to make sure the Lightning have a good crowd in Stockholm. The team has fans there already, but he joked he’d do a tour around the country to drum up more support. He’ll bring his family and friends, and their friends. He’s anticipating a lot of ticket requests but “I’ll make sure I have enough to cover them all.”

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Most of his family has been able to come over to the States to watch him play, and many of his friends. But there are more who haven’t. The chance to play in front of them is special.

“It’s important games too, regular season, there are four points there for the taking,” he said. “They’re going to be important games, not exhibition. It’s going to be a month into the season, so we’ll be in full beast mode, hopefully.”

In addition to the Sabres and Lightning’s two games in Sweden, the Flyers and Blackhawks will play on Oct. 4 in Prague. Philadelphia will finish up training camp in Switzerland, playing an exhibition game against Lausanne HC, while Chicago plays Eisbären Berlin in Germany.

Tickets for the Lightning’s games in Sweden will go on sale to the public March 27. Fans can also register to gain pre-sale information by signing up for NHL Inside the Crease.

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“These kinds of games are easy to get up for,” BriseBois said. “They are special games. In the course of an 82-game season, it’s not true to say they’re all easy to get up for.”

Hedman figures the attention on the Lightning this year, and the individual season Kucherov is having, will help draw fans to Tampa Bay’s side.

Sweden has a strong NHL presence, with Buffalo currently featuring three Swedish players on its roster: Rasmus Dahlin, Johan Larsson and Linus Ullmark. Hedman’s hometown, Ornskoldsvik, also has produced NHL greats Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Peter Forsberg and Mats Naslund.

The Swedish players aren’t the only draw. Sweden is a hockey country – with consecutive World Championships – but rarely has an opportunity to see the world’s premier league.

“They’re excited to see Stamkos, Kucherov, all those guys,” Hedman said. “They’re going to be excited to see us, and our opponent.”

Hedman has played for Team Sweden (Tre Kronor), notably on that 2017 world championship team, and it means a lot to wear the nation’s three-crowns logo. The Lightning have tapped into his expertise in planning for the event.

“It’s going to be one of the highlights of my career so far,” he said. “Hopefully before that we add another highlight.”

“It means a lot, especially from my hometown,” Hedman said. “It means a lot to me to follow their legacy and make my hometown proud, and my family proud.”

He already has plans in mind for his teammates. Hedman isn’t sharing the details, but he plans to share a traditional Swedish food item, though not exactly a treat.

Hedman isn’t even sure he’ll be able to get the special treat in Stockholm — it originates from an island near his hometown — but if he can’t find it in the national capital, his father will bring it. He’s determined to make sure the mystery meal is on hand.

“It’s something I’ll show them when we get closer to it,” he said. “It’s going to smell. I can tell you that much.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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