Yes, that headline means Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog is going home to Stockholm.
With his teammates.
I caught up with Landeskog, shown above suited up for Sweden in the World Cup, and a couple of his Swedish Colorado teammates before the Avalanche departed for the four-game trip that closes with the pair of games against the Ottawa Senators in Stockholm Friday and Saturday.
The Avalanche opened the trip with a 5-4 shootout win at Philadelphia Saturday and then fell 6-4 to the New York Islanders Sunday — in a game that will be most memorable for Matt Duchene’s exit from the bench after his trade to Ottawa was finalized during the first period — before heading for Sweden.
“I’m stoked,” Landeskog told me. “I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it became official. It’s a dream come true to make the NHL and do this for a living, and for a kid from Sweden or anywhere in Europe to play in the NHL.
“And then to get a chance to play a real NHL game, a regular-season game, in your hometown in front of family and friends, it’s going to be so much fun. I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can. We know that we’re going there on business and we have to take care of the two games there and come back with four points from there. That’s the goal.”
The two-game matchup, announced late last season, is a savvy marketing move for the NHL, since both captains — Erik Karlsson of the Senators, the league’s top defenseman; and Landskog — are from Sweden.
“That’s going to be fun for the Swedish fans,” Landeskog said. He smiled and added, “I hope the majority decides to cheer on the good guys from Colorado. We’ll see.”
That makes sense, actually. Landeskog, already in his sixth season as Avalanche captain at age 24, was born and raised in Stockholm. Karlsson, the opposing captain, hails from Landsbro, about 212 miles from Stockholm in central Sweden.
Landeskog’s father, Tony, played two seasons in the Swedish Elite League and additional years in the second division. Tony went into the insurance business in Stockholm, and his wife, Cecilia, was a cook. Their young son, Gabriel, had a poster of the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup champions on his wall — and by 2012 was named the Colorado captain.
Since turning pro after two seasons of major junior with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Landeskog has played in Stockholm for Sweden in the World Championships and for Stockholm-based Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League during the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
Yet these games will be big for the Landeskog family.
“I’ve got 45 tickets to each game,” Landeskog said. “They’re my early Christmas presents to everyone this year. . . Stockholm has a great hockey tradition and a good fan base for hockey. And I think the NHL is going to take that city by storm and I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemath also is from Stockholm and played with Landeskog on youth teams. Plus, Landeskog calls Senators defenseman Fredrik Claesson “one of my childhood buddies.”
Nemeth and Landeskog became Avalanche teammates when Colorado claimed Nemeth on waivers from the Dallas Stars on Oct. 2.
“The games in Sweden are obviously fun” Nemeth told me. “You get to meet your family, but it’s business. Four points are on the line.”
Nemeth laughed and said he isn’t “even close” to Landeskog’s ticket total for Stockholm. “He’s stealing all the tickets,” Nemeth joked. “There aren’t any left.”
At the outset of the Avalanche’s four-game trip, the roster’s other Swedes were defenseman Anton Lindholm and center Carl Soderberg. Lindholm is from Skelleftea, nearly 500 miles north of Stockholm, while Soderberg is from Malmo, at the extreme southern tip of Sweden about 380 miles from the capital city. But Lindholm suffered a broken jaw against Philadelphia Saturday.
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Denver-based journalist Terry Frei writes commentaries about the Avalanche for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and a War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champion Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
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