Lightning’s trip to Sweden requires long-term planning

Putting on a game on another continent is no small feat, but the NHL has a system in place.
The Lightning and Sabres will play at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the NHL Global Series.
The Lightning and Sabres will play at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the NHL Global Series. [ CHRISTINE OLSSON | AP ]
Published Aug. 22, 2019|Updated Aug. 23, 2019

TAMPA — Lynn White has spent more than a year planning the Lightning’s trip to Sweden.

She’s not doing it alone, though. White, the NHL’s group vice president of international strategy, leads a team of about 70 people making arrangements for the Lightning’s two regular-season games in November against the Sabres in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.

The team has an eye on everything from booking hotels to reminding everyone to bring an adapter for cellphone chargers.

After 19 years of international play, White and the NHL have a system in place and a template to follow for the trips that help them deal with the expected and the unexpected.

It helps for the Lightning’s trip that Sweden is familiar territory for the NHL. It has staged games in Stockholm since 2000. Sweden and Finland are the league’s strongest markets outside North America, so the NHL keeps going back to them.

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The arena where the Lightning and Sabres will play, the Ericsson Globe, doesn’t currently host a hockey team, but it has in the past, and its staff speaks English. That means when White and her team send a list of requirements for medical supplies, equipment and coordinating the rink installation — including boards and netting — everyone knows what they’re asking for.

Last fall, shortly after the Oct. 6 game between the Devils and Oilers in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Nov. 1 and 2 games between the Panthers and Jets in Helsinki, Finland, the NHL started planning this year’s overseas games. Also, the Blackhawks and Flyers will complete their training camps in Switzerland and Germany, respectively; play exhibition games in those countries, and open their regular seasons against each other in Prague, Czech Republic.

“The NHL doesn’t compel its teams to play internationally,” White said. “Buffalo and Tampa were quick to raise their hands.”

The league usually targets teams with players from counties in which they want to hold games. In this case, that means the Lightning’s Victor Hedman — the defenseman went on the league’s European player media tour this month in Sweden to help promote the game — and Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. International fans are more likely to follow NHL players from their countries than specific teams.

Once teams sign on for international play, the league takes on making much of the arrangements.

“We tell them ‘We’re going to take care of you from the moment you leave the United States to the moment you come back,’ ” White said.

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The first order of business is the plane. Teams’ typical charters aren’t equipped for international flights. After that, White and her team find hotels. The NHL works with teams to find something as similar to their usual accommodations as possible.

This trip for two games dictates almost a month of the schedule for the Lightning and Sabres.

For the Lightning, the trip comes immediately after one to the New York metropolitan area for games against the Rangers, Devils and Islanders because it’s easier to fly out of New York. The Lightning get a week off after the Islanders game to travel and acclimate to the time zone. Then they have four days between games on the other end, returning to Tampa Bay to face the Rangers.

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The NHL also offers advice on shifting sleep patterns to help the travelers adjust better, including when to nap.

Though the league supplies most of what teams will need, there is a limit.

“We’ve already said to the Tampa Bay equipment staff: ‘If there’s something you absolutely need, like a player will only chew peppermint gum, bring it,’ ” White said.

Usually, especially in European countries, something similar will be available, but it might not be exactly what is desired.

White ends internal meetings with these simple reminders: Make sure your cellphone is on an international plan and don’t rack up a huge bill.

The Lightning has played overseas before. It traveled to Prague in 2008 for two games against the Rangers, losing each 2-1.