Just as you would have expected after they drafted Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick last June, the Buffalo Sabres are going global.
As in the NHL's Global Series.
The league announced early Thursday morning that the Sabres will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in two regular-season games Nov. 8-9 in Stockholm, Sweden. It will be Buffalo's first trip overseas since 2011 and a showcase for both the budding Sabres star as well as Tampa Bay stalwart Victor Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman and also a native of Sweden.
"It was something I was hoping for but I was not expecting it in my second year in the NHL," Dahlin told The Buffalo News. "So that's really going to be pretty special.
"I think it's going to feel weird at first but it will be super nice for me to go home and for my family and friends to see me in Sweden, see me play hockey in season. So many friends and people over there will make it fun."
In addition to Dahlin, the Sabres have several Swedes on their roster and in their organization who could potentially be on the team next season. The list includes former Swedish World Juniors captain Johan Larsson and goalie Linus Ullmark as well as prospects Alexander Nylander, Lawrence Pilut, Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund.
The games will be played in Ericsson Globe, a 13,500-seat circular arena that is the home of the Swedish National Team and has hosted 10 previous NHL games. Each team will be designated the home team for one game, meaning the Lightning will come to KeyBank Center just once and Buffalo will go to Amalie Arena once during the 2019-20 season.
North American games get strong followings overseas even with local start times often in the range of midnight-2 a.m. So live games in their homeland are major events in places like Sweden and Finland.
"It's huge, absolutely huge," Dahlin said. "Kids really are not able to see NHL games because they're usually so late and they get a chance with this. The league grows when it comes to Sweden and it's great for everyone."
The Nov. 8 game is an 8 p.m. local start in Sweden while the Nov. 9 contest is a 7 p.m. start. That means the games will be at 3 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, in Buffalo.
The international trip figures to be a highlight of the Sabres' 50th anniversary season. It's well-known that owners Terry and Kim Pegula push the NHL hard to be included in the league's marquee events, and the Sabres' recent ones included their trip to New York for the 10th anniversary Winter Classic in 2018 and last September's Hockeyville USA exhibition game against Columbus in Clinton, N.Y.
"I think it's great, especially with the team the Sabres are going to play against in Tampa," Ullmark said following practice Thursday. "There are a lot of fans back home who root for Tampa, obviously because of Victor Hedman, but also all their stars. I think it's going to be a big party back home."
Ottawa and Colorado played a pair of games in the Global Series last season. Edmonton and New Jersey opened their season this year with a game in Gothenburg, Dahlin's hometown, after finishing their training camps in Germany and Switzerland, respectively. That was done to showcase Leon Draisaitl and Nico Hischier in their home countries. Boston and Calgary played preseason games in September in China.
Dahlin said Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is a four- or five-hour drive from Gothenburg.
"It's not bad at all so I will have a lot of people there," he said. "I'm just glad this is in Sweden. Anywhere in Sweden is awesome. It doesn't matter where."
In addition to the Sabres' announcement, the NHL confirmed the slate of international games Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed during All-Star Weekend in San Jose in January. The Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers will meet in their season-opening game in Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday, Oct. 4 at O2 Arena. The Hawks will finish training camp in Germany and meet Eisbaren Berlin in an exhibition game on Sept. 29, while the Flyers will train in Switzerland and play Lausanne HC on Sept. 30 in Lausanne.
Fans can register their interest in tickets and gain access to pre-sale information and more by signing up for NHL Inside the Crease. Tickets for the Sabres' games will be available March 27 at Live Nation.
The Sabres opened the 2011-12 season, the Pegulas' first full year of ownership, with a preseason game against a German pro team in Mannheim and then wins over Los Angeles and Anaheim. Those games were played in Helsinki and Berlin. They also took a preseason trip to Austria in 1998.