Hammond: How I Spent My NHL Premiere - Part Two
The LA Kings were sent on a world tour of hockey games through the last few weeks, beat writer Rich Hammond tells his story
A postgame flight to Stockholm didn’t reveal much of the city in the dead of night, but those who were able to overcome jet lag and leave their hotel rooms on Wednesday morning found a great reward.
The team hotel had a prime location, right along one of the city’s harbor areas and a short walk from two of the most scenic, fascinating parts of town: Gamla Stan -- "Old Town" and Djurgarden.
A walking, running and biking haven, Djurgarden features a fascinating combination of parkland, museums, historical buildings and even an amusement park.
Less green and leafy, but with every bit of the historical feel, Gamla Stan proved to be the highlight of the Europe trip, the talker, for much of the traveling party. With roots in the 13th century, the island town has maintained all of its old-school charm, with cobblestone streets, roadside cafes and centuries-old churches. The old royal palace towers over one end, still patrolled by bayonet-carrying guards.
Given the narrow, winding streets and the charm and beauty of the island, it’s easy to get lost for a couple hours, both literally and metaphorically, and Gamla stan won over much of the traveling party.
It also revealed a part of Swedish -- and, largely, European -- culture that might not seem familiar to Americans. The idea of grabbing a cup of coffee and a bagel from a store and hitting the road, that doesn’t fly in Sweden. There are no Starbucks franchises.
With a couple exceptions, most cafes will serve their coffee and pastries sit-down style, and Swedes are not big on eating large breakfasts at restaurants.
One wonders what they must think of the concept of a drive-through window at Starbucks.
Wednesday also brought an opportunity for players, coaches and staff to adjust and rest, as there were no on-ice activities. The adventurous went out and walked the city, while the tired caught up on sleep.
Thursday meant a long bus ride from the hotel to the Ericsson Globe, a towering structure filled with bright-red seats that houses most of the major indoor events that come to Sweden.
After practice, two staff members set out in search of Swedish meatballs. Techically, they’re called kottbullar, but in any language, they’re good. The decision to skip the American-style food -- no more T.G.I. Friday’s -- paid off with a delicious meal that included potatoes, lingonberries and cucumbers.
Finally, with the rising of the sun Friday, game day had arrived. All the preamble finished, the Kings would open their season against the New York Rangers at the Globe. The team went to the arena for a morning skate, which presented time for one last walk through Gamla stan and one last mocha.
The game largely went the Kings’ way, although they needed a goal with five minutes remaining in the third period in order to tie the game and send it to overtime, where Jack Johnson won it, 3-2.
That meant a happy flight to Berlin, but also a late arrival. European city planners, it seems, did not see the wisdom in putting their airports near their major cities. The longest arena-to-airport trip in America, for the Kings, takes about 30 minutes. In Europe, every bus ride seemed to be at least that long.
Finally, the bus made it to the Berlin hotel around 2 a.m. Saturday, and the clock started ticking. The bus to the arena, for pregame activities, would leave at 5:30 p.m., leaving the traveling crew just more than 17 hours to see the sights, eat and, of course, sleep, in one of the world’s most famous cities.
Several staffers, fueled by caffeine, hit the road early in the morning and braved a cold wind. On a Saturday morning, finding the tourist sites proved to be quite easy. The masses of camera-clutching, tour-guided American, French and English, among others, served as something of a beacon.
Thanks to a well-placed hotel, most of the major sights of Berlin could be seen in a two-hour walking loop. The Brandenburg Gate. A still-standing stretch of the Berlin Wall, south of the gate. The famous Checkpoint Charlie. A town square, with German and French Cathedrals facing each other.
The walk ended with a stop at a spacious German chocolate store.
Goodies for folks back home.
Before long, the time had arrived to once again jam all the clean and worn clothes back into the suitcase. In just a couple hours, the bus to the arena would leave. A few hours after that, the enormous plane would be wheels-up again, and it would be time to re-cross the Atlantic Ocean and head ``home.’’
The game went decidedly against the Kings, a 4-2 victory for Buffalo that could have been even more lopsided. Players and staff milled about while, outside, fans clamored for autographs and pictures.
And there’s the one aspect of the trip that hasn’t been discussed: the people. A first-time visitor from America feared what he might encounter in Europe. Would he be viewed as rude, trying to force the only language he knew -- English -- on people he encountered?
No worries. The people of Hamburg, Stockholm and Berlin couldn’t have been more accommodating. Hockey isn’t the biggest sport in any of those cities, but when a local learned that they were in the presence of someone associated with the NHL, his face invariably brightened.
Kings fans from Sweden, from Germany, from Slovenia, gushed about being able to see their favorite team in person for the first time.
Even crooner Tony Bennett made an appearance at the team hotel in Stockholm (even though he probably had no knowledge of hockey games).
The locals didn’t limit their hospitality to hockey.
A traveler, in search of lunch and the flavor of the city, hit the streets of Hamburg hoping to find some local cuisine, but instead found himself in line for an ``American-style’’ hot dog, so said the sign.
"Texas" hot dog, the menu said, and that seemed safe enough, even if the rest of the ingredients were not easily translatable. But while many Germans seemed to have at least a rudimentary ability to understand and speak English, the hot-dog man offered only rapid-fire German.
Smiles, points, nods and the word ``Texas’’ got the point across, but things broke down when the man spoke a sentence in German with the word ``barbecue’’ tossed in. The customer nodded, believing barbeque sauce would be spread onto the bun. But behind the counter, the man stared.
As the previous customer collected his hot dog and drink, he turned with a sympathetic smile and, in a heavy German accent said, ``He’s saying that they are out of barbeque sauce.’’
After a thumbs-up and a thank you, the young man went on his way, probably not knowing how his small, kind gesture had helped a visitor feel so welcome.