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Hockey Night In Sweden

Going home for Christmas has it perks. One is to see your childhood team live, in the building where you first watched a game of ice hockey.

There is always something about coming back to where you you grew up. I feel that I grew up in the stands of Scandinavium watching Frölunda when I was a kid. As such, the one thing I try to do when I go home for Christmas is get out for a game.

Scandinavium is, like the Bell Centre, located more or less in the middle of the city. It is part of the Entertainment Park as the Gothenburg Council wants to name it, with the funfair Liseberg, and the football stadiums of Old and New Ullevi. A few different tram lines have nearby stops for easy access to the entire city.

Frölunda hasn't always been at the level it is today. They are now one of the top teams in Sweden but during my introduction to hockey, I suffered through quite a few disappointing seasons with Frölunda in what is today known as Allsvenskan. The end of every season came with a failed attempt to the top division. When Frölunda finally got promoted to the Elitserien in 1989, it was John Newberry, a former Canadien who helped carried the team.

Frölunda has fostered NHL players such as Calle Johansson (Capitals), Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson (Senators), and the undisputed fan favourite Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers) to name a few. Recent players now playing in the NHL are John Klingberg and Mattias Janmark for the Dallas Stars. Currently playing for the team are prospects like Artturi Lehkonen (Canadiens), Andreas Johnson (Leafs) and another of my own favourites Jacob Larsson (Ducks).

The Scandinavium arena is old, and Frölunda has bought the other arena located in the West End of Gothenburg, choosing to host the CHL games there, as it is smaller with steeper stands, much like the arena in Bratislava. It also has the development and training facilities, and has created a Campus Frölunda in order to make the best possible environment for developing players. Scandinavium's capacity is 12044, and a capacity night against a rival team or playoff game is something special.

Pre-game the spotlights are on the two fan sections, letting them drive up the crowd before the entrance of the teams. While things have changed I still look for memories; a special flag that used to be cross ice from "our" seats, AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" as entrance music, and the players of old.

Frölunda has come a long way, seeking inspiration from the NHL, and trying to promote itself (and succeeding) as one of the premier clubs outside of North America. Developing talent and having them play early attracts fans to the team, as you get to see them longer before the NHL departure. It also leads to young players actively wanting to join the ranks of the Gothenburg team for later success in their career.

NHL teams seem to enjoy the approach by Frölunda, with the Leafs lending Johnson back to them for a season to develop further. Lehkonen might have the same deal next season, and maybe Jacob Larsson and Anaheim will go that route as well.

The particular game I attended should have been over in the second period, when Lehkonen scored off an intercepted pass, but Malmö came back and took the game to a shootout. This gave important point in the relegation zone for Malmö, and I can't help but think that Frölunda was suffering from an intense training period over the Christmas break.

Frölunda won the shootout, and the crowd was able to go home satisfied, still part of the top two teams in the table. Lehkonen was named the second star of the game, and also made himself available for autographs and photos in the "Fan Corner" after the game (two players are there after every home game). Frölunda works with the fans to be approachable and open to generate an interest for both old and new fans.

Gothenburg is a city built around the port, and while the University has taken over as one of the main places for work, the city is also known for the music that is being produced here. This, as well as the sports teams generating interest in the city; football and handball being the other strong sports.

A trip to Gothenburg will always be home for me, but for a visitor it can be a good way to experience the top level of the SHL, and European hockey in general.