STOCKHOLM – The non-Swedes on the Buffalo Sabres' roster are getting a kick out of watching the club's six Swedish players return to their homeland for this week's NHL Global Series.
Casey Mittelstadt is Rasmus Dahlin's roommate in Buffalo and said he sees how much this trip means to his friend over the team's standard roadies in North America.
"He's got a lot of extra jump in his step," Mittelstadt said after practice Wednesday in Ericsson Globe. "It's funny how I haven't seen him a lot since Monday. He's been running around town with his family and girlfriend. We all get to go home in Canada and the U.S. and you don't really think about never doing it. Now these guys finally get their chance here. It's been fun for sure."
Dahlin, Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson and Victor Olofsson will be on the ice for Friday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's uncertain which of the two games here will be played by goalie Linus Ullmark, or if coach Ralph Krueger will use recalled defenseman Lawrence Pilut in either game. Pilut has yet to play for Buffalo this year.
"They're excited. You don't get that experience too often in your career," said defenseman Brandon Montour. "Anytime you get to play close to home or close to family and friends where they can come to visit, it's definitely nice."
"They're excited, as they should be," said winger Jeff Skinner. "We've got a lot of them and we can feed off that energy. It's going to be a fun night for everyone but obviously, for them, it's going to be extra special."
Montour recalled how his family in Southern Ontario didn't make many trips to Anaheim to see him play because he was so far away, so he knows what the Swedes go through.
"My parents and family and friends are now two hours away," Montour said. "I got that experience of playing at home getting traded to Buffalo."
How did the Sabres spend a rare day off made more rare by the fact they were overseas 4,000 miles from home?
There were shopping trips around Stockholm on Tuesday, card games in the hotel, dinner for the players and another for the coaches and staff. Strolls through the city's famous Old Town area were the most touristy things the team did.
Both the Sabres and the Lightning are staying in the opulent Grand Hotel, just off the city's famous Old Town area. The hotel dates to 1874 and has a waterfront view, with a strait that eventually empties into the Baltic Sea. It is the place where guests routinely include Nobel Prize laureates in town to be honored at the annual dinner, diplomats and celebrities. President Barack Obama took up residence there in 2013 and again when he spoke at a conference here in June.
It is walking distance from virtually all the major attractions in the city and surrounded by restaurants and shops.
"It was a relaxing day, nice day in the sun in Stockholm and nice jog along the water," said Krueger.
"It's been good but a little chilly," Montour said of Stockholm. "The city's nice but it's really good to have a nice spa in the hotel. I walked around, checked out some shops, checked out the area."
The weather has been bright and sunny, although the temperatures haven't made it out of the 30s and there was a cold wind on Tuesday. You have to relish that sunshine when you can because there's only about eight hours of daylight, with sunset in the 3:30 p.m. range each afternoon.
"It's been great. No complaints here," said Mittelstadt. "It's cold, but I know it will be cold in Buffalo soon, too."
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 6, 2019
The Sabres' practice Wednesday started at 5 a.m. Buffalo time and lasted roughly an hour. Krueger restored Victor Olofsson to the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart and Jimmy Vesey served as the extra forward. Still, lines in practice often aren't a big deal after a day off and two days before the next game.
The Sabres and Lightning will have public practices in the arena on Thursday and that may serve to be a better gauge on how the lineup will look for Friday night's opener here.
"You could feel this morning we're coming into a narrower window," Krueger said. "We want to kind of get the work going. This kind of launched it after the travel, the practice day a couple of days ago and the day off. Now we really reel it in getting ready for Friday."
By the time the Sabres take the ice Friday, it will have been six days since their last game. The travel has been long but Krueger hopes the break from the frenetic schedule serves his team well.
"This mental freshness should show up in our game on Friday," he said. "We should get very close back to our 'A' game. That's what we're expecting here. The atmosphere has been good. The good weather and the sunshine has helped.
"Everyone seems to be in a really good place and I'm sure both teams are feeling that way. People here should expect some very high-speed, world-class hockey here on the weekend."
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 6, 2019
Tampa Bay was off on Wednesday, secure in the knowledge that defenseman Victor Hedman likely will play Friday. Hedman, who has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, practiced fully here Tuesday. He is Tampa Bay's lone Swede and is the featured attraction of these game to most Swedes, ever far above Dahlin.
Krueger coached seven years in Austria, with Swedish stars Bengt-Åke Gustafsson and Thomas Rundqvist playing in five of them (Gustafsson played more than 600 games for the Washington Capitals from 1979-89). Krueger also played for three years in the late '70s in Dusseldorf, Germany, with Roland Eriksson, a player he termed "one of the national heroes." Eriksson was a two-time 60-point man in the '70s for the Minnesota North Stars.
"I have a lot of past with Swedish players in my career," Krueger said. "To come here and having some Swedish blood around has definitely been good for the way my past evolved me as a coach, with some North American and European elements. Having Swedes there has been a really good thing."