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Swedish ice hockey team helps ring in new year

A stepping stone to NHL Redhawks will be formidable opponents br for Kings
Glen Gibbs

It has been three years since the U-17 Swedish Junior team paid a New Year’s Eve visit to Powell River.

The game itself was wildly successful as 1,400 fans watched the skilled Swedes drop the Kings 4-0 but the fun really began when 400 people gathered in the Arbutus Room to ring in the New Year.

As one reveller, Chuck McBey, said, “You just have to look around the room at all the people here to see that there’s a need for a New Year’s event like this.”

Thankfully, the Kings were listening and this year a Swedish Junior Elite team, Malmo Redhawks, will open their five-game tour of the BC Hockey League’s island teams in Powell River.

Kings’ fans are sure to be entertained on New Year’s Eve and, given the top Canadian Junior Hockey League ranking of their team, look for a battle between the two clubs.

Of all the games they’ll play, it’s reported that the Redhawks are gunning for the kings of Junior A hockey in Canada.

Marketing Manager Elise Statham wants to build on previous New Year’s Eve successes saying, “This will be the New Year’s event to be at. It’s perfect for the whole family. A hockey game, fabulous buffet dinner, dancing, and lots of entertainment for the kids including skating, movies and crafts with the Kings all wrapped up into one evening.

“Our goal is to create an amazing event for everyone who comes out,” she said, “as well as raise funds for the Kings. As you can imagine, running one of the top hockey programs in the country has its expenses and this will be a key fundraiser to offset those costs while having fun at the same time.”

The Redhawks compete in Sweden’s J20 SuperElit League, the highest junior league in their country.

The team has been a stepping stone for many National Hockey League (NHL) players, including Vancouver Canuck’s forward Jannick Hansen, Chicago Blackhawk’s defenceman Kim Johnsson and Edmonton Oiler’s rookie sensation Magnus Paarvi-Svensson.

They are part of a long list of Swedish hockey stars that started with Sven Tumba, the first Swede to attend an NHL training camp (Boston Bruins) in 1957.

Since then several Swedish players have contributed to both the record book and colourful history of the NHL.

• Kent Nilsson became the first European player to crack the 100-point plateau with 131 with Calgary Flames.

• Borje Salming remains the biggest sports icon in his country after patrolling Toronto Maple Leaf’s blueline in the 1970s and 1980s. He racked up 787 points for the Leafs in more than 1,100 games.

• Peter Forsberg was a gritty superstar who led Colorado Avalanche to Stanley Cup victories in 1996 and 2001. Like Bobby Orr, Forsberg’s physical style shortened his career due to injuries but not before winning the Art Ross and Hart trophies and recording 885 points in 706 games.

• Mats Sundin finished his career with more goals (564) and points (1,349) than any other Swedish-born player. The number one NHL draft pick in 1989 joined Quebec Nordiques, rewrote the Leaf’s record book in 13 seasons and signed a $6 million one-year deal in 2008 with the Canucks.

• Nicklas Lidstrom is still adding to his jaw-dropping statistics with Detroit Red Wings but to date has 240 goals and 827 assists to lead all Swedish defencemen in scoring and fifth in NHL history. He has led the Wings to four Stanley Cups and won six Norris Trophies for top defenceman.

While these players lead an illustrious list, that includes the likes of Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Hakan Loob, Daniel Alfredsson, Anders Hedberg, Pelle Lindbergh, Lars Lindgren and Markus Naslund, who recently had his Canuck’s number 19 raised to the rafters, even the Swedes who played with the U-17 team in Powell River in 2007 have begun to have an impact on hockey.

Several were drafted by NHL clubs and most still play professionally in either the NHL or Sweden.

Look for them on the international stage as well when Phoenix Coyotes’ 2009 first round number six draft pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson wears his country’s Tre Kronor jersey in this year’s IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Junior championship in Buffalo.

In addition to finding fame on the ice one of the Swedish players who was here, Henrik Andersen, is one of the biggest hits on the Internet with his post-goal celebration. After a very pretty goal he charges to the corner and, Ovechkin-like, jumps into the glass panel which unfortunately gives way. The botched celebration shows him and the sheet of glass tumbling into the front row of the stands and ensures his legacy lies in a You Tube clip rather than his considerable hockey skills.

What a great way to end a very successful year for the Kings and begin what might be the biggest one in their 22-year history.