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Lightning arrive in Sweden, a country with a fascinating culture

It’s a business trip for Tampa Bay, but the players may get a chance to see a few sights in Stockholm

ST. PETERSBURG — Scenic watery vistas, historic castles, friendly people and terrific natural surroundings.

Niklas Lindberg will relish all those aspects of his home country when he returns to Stockholm, Sweden this week to see the Lightning play Buffalo in the NHL’s Global Series.

He also hopes the Bolts also will enjoy a few sights, but it is a business trip. The team arrived in the Swedish national capital on Sunday and immediately went through a 45-minute skate at Hovet Arena in Stockholm.

Whether they get to move before the two-game series against the Sabres remains to be seen — they are off on Wednesday — but if they do, Lindberg said there’s much to see and do.

“The best time to visit is in the summer,” said Lindberg, the assistant hockey director/head of coaching at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. “It’s nice in the winter, too, but summers are unbeatable. There’s lots of nature, people working out, walking. A lot of people ride their bike to work. The public transportation is great. People walk a lot. It’s very active.”

Tourists visit the Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm County, Sweden last month. [ ZHENG HUANSONG | ZUMAPRESS.com ]

Like a lot of Swedish natives, Lindberg quickly explained his nation is so much more than ABBA, IKEA and meatballs. In fact, former Lightning great and friend Brian Bradley often teases him about “meatballs,” so he counters by calling Bradley “bacon,” a nod to Bradley’s Canadian roots.

Lindberg, 39, said he also has to remind people it’s Sweden, not Switzerland, but that hasn’t stopped some from telling him, “The Alps are beautiful.”

“I’ve heard it all,” Lindberg said. “People ask, ‘Does everyone have blonde hair? Do they speak English? Other than maybe Grandma or Grandpa, everybody speaks English. You’ll have a tough time practicing your Swedish, because everyone there wants to practice English.”

Swedish students start learning English in third or fourth grade, and a reported 89 percent of the natives speak English. Also, IKEA in Sweden is just like IKEA in the United States: You will get lost if you don’t follow the arrows. Mama Mia.

Yes, ABBA hails from Sweden, as does 1990s groups Roxette and Ace of Base. Music, however, is a big part of the culture and goes beyond those pop groups. The Cardigans, The Hive, Robyn and Rednex, who recorded the infectious Cotton-Eyed Joe, call Sweden home. You also can add electronic music stars Swedish Mafia House, naturally, and the late Aviici to the list.

Anna Modig, a Swedish native and St. Petersburg resident who owns her own graphic design company, lists Bo Kaspers Orkester and Rebecca Törnqvist among her favorite music groups, and says there may be a reason Sweden ranks behind only the U.S. and the United Kingdom in producing music stars.

“Swedes have always appreciated music, so much so that music education is taught and encouraged at an early age,” said Modig, 54. “That much installation lends to more people being interested in it and participating in it.”

Sweden also has earned praise for its sustainability and recycling efforts. It’s considered the world leader because of its use of renewable sources. Victoria, the crown princess of Sweden — yes, they have royal family in Sweden — recently visited a recycling plant in Sweden. And teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg also hails from Sweden.

Crown Princess Victoria during her visit to the Swedish Plastic Recycling plant in Motala, Sweden last month. The plant Europe's largest for plastic recycling. [ PONTUS LUNDAHL/TT | ZUMAPRESS.com ]

“My brother throws out 'garbage’ once a month,” Modig said. “Everything else is either recycled, composted or burned for fuel (with appropriate air filtration so as to not pollute).”

Environmental consciousness ties back to Swedes love of nature and the outdoors. More than 50 percent of the country is covered by forests, and a sense of freedom permeates their interaction. Modig said a popular term is, “Allemansrätten” which means, roughly, “free to roam.”

“It means you are allowed to travel on private property (like to get to the beach) as long as you are respectful of the owner and owner’s privacy,” Modig said.

The rural areas also are populated with hundreds of thousands of moose. Modig said she once spotted a moose six feet at the shoulder in her parents’ backyard. Lindberg said his wife was excited to finally see one this summer on their annual visit.

Hundreds of thousands of moose populated the Swedish countryside. [ CARMEN JASPERSEN | ZUMAPRESS.com ]

Other Swedish aspects: the Nobel Prize, smorgasbords, northern lights, lingonberry jam, fermented fish (or surstromming) and fika — a tradition of coffee breaks that emphasize not coffee and pastries, but socializing and refreshing the brain, according to swedishfoods.com.

One more thing you should know about Sweden: They love hockey. Lindberg started playing as a child and says many play soccer in the summer and hockey in the winter. He grew into a professional, came to the United States to play in the minor leagues and now coaches.

“People are very passionate about their hockey,” Lindberg said. “Especially the national teams. The game is growing and getting better. There are a lot more (Swedish) players in the NHL and all around the world.”

Modig was more succinct: “Hockey is life.”

Note: Lightning have reassigned forward Luke Witkowski to the Syracuse Crunch. Witkowski, 29, has appeared in 12 games with the Lightning this season, posting a goal and three points to go along with 13 penalty minutes.

The Holland, Mich., native ranks tied for second on the Bolts for penalty minutes. Witkowski was originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the sixth round, 160th overall, at the 2008 NHL Draft.

Times staff writer Diana C. Nearhos contributed to this story. Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow @hoop4you.

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