November 6, 2011

Our Man in Europe Checks Out Swedish Hockey - The Blueliner Hockey Tour 2011

This year the Blueliner was on his travels again. This time to Stockholm. And was in the Swedish capital all week sampling what this city had to offer in terms of its hockey culture.  Including two games of hockey featuring the cities two arch rivals. On Tuesday was Djurgardens against Frolunda then on Thursday night AIK and Farjestad at Hovet Arena.
There was also a trip back to hockey’s routes as I visited Sweden’s Elitserien Bandy League on Wednesday as Stockholm’s third sports club (not in terms of rank) Hammarby took on Villa Lidkoping. For those of you unfamiliar with Bandy. It is a game played outdoors on a pitch about the size of a soccer field and is something similar to field hockey. In modern terms it is the game that ice hockey developed from. The rest will have to wait until Wednesday night when I should know more.
But before all that gets going. The 2011 Blueliner Hockey Tour started a little closer to home. In fact at the Altrincham Ice Dome with the Manchester Phoenix and Basingstoke Bison.
It is around about 15 years to the day that I first watched ice hockey. It was a 5-5 tie between the Manchester Storm and the Ayr Scottish Eagles. So returning again to see a successful Manchester side was an exciting event. The Altrincham Ice Dome may not be the Manchester Evening News Arena but the fans, noise and sport are still there. Even if there aren’t as many fans.
The game itself is not great. Manchester had started the season with injury problems and it showed as they struggled to get into any flow. Passes seemingly to someone who they thought would be there and had gone a different way.
Manchester’s opposition tonight was another team I remember fondly from my early hockey days, Basingstoke. The reason I remember them so fondly is for one save in a playoff tie. Manchester Storm had pulled goalie Grant Sjevern when Basingstoke broke away. With a seemingly empty net the shot was taken only for Grant Sjevern to have sprinted from the bench to make the diving save.
Tonight however they also seemed to be content to wait for their chances and take them and that they did. 2 break away goals shorthand and redirect on the powerplay and they win the game 3-0.
As for us it is onwards to the airport and the flight to Stockholm. Next game is a struggling Djurgarden side against Elitserien high flyers Frolunda at the Royal Court, Hovet.

First impressions on Sweden is one of efficiency. The airport terminal at Arlanda is right next to the runway. No travelling for an hour to a stand in middle of nowhere then getting a bus.  Transferring to the city centre too is simple on the bus transfer.

It quickly comes clear that sport is a favourite here. A walk around the local area near the hotel shows you that. The local parks have skate parks, mini rinks, soccer nets, basketball hoops and the like. A trip to the local bar also hammers this home as well. Here tho it is obvious what sport is king.

As I entered it was soccer on the large TV screens that soon changes as it approaches 7pm and the televised hockey game is put on. It is not however the Elitserien, Sweden’s top flight that is showing but a AllSvenska (Sweden’s second tier) matchup between Leksand and Mora. It is worth noting that Sweden’s answer to Don Cherry is a bit different. Not only is he blonde but takes to the ice to skate with the players as they come out.

The surprise is that the game is a lively affair played in an arena that would put 7 UK Elite League teams to shame. The attendance would too. It is massive and this is on a Monday Night. 

What does continue to amaze not only here in Sweden but in other countries in Europe is the amount of away support a team gets even in mid week. I am not sure if this is the case in Sweden but in Austria’s second tier the league arrange mid week matches according to geographical location to make it easier for fans to travel to away games. If ever there was a task for any league this was it. Get bigger attendances across the board and help clubs with increased gate receipts and would allow the league season to be shorter because mid week games could be financial viable.

For the record the game ended 3-2 in favour of Leksand.


Day 3 is game day in Stockholm. Tonight Stockholm’s and Sweden’s if not the world’s oldest team Djurgarden IF who were formed in 1891 is in action. Tonight they play in Hovet arena against the Frolunda Indians. 

Hovet is great hockey venue. High rows of seats over the look the large ice pad with a VIP area behind one goal with a restaurant and terrace bar area. On a wider scale Hovet forms part of the Globen group of venues that includes a Football stadium home to Hammarby, Hovet arena home to Aik and Djurgarden and the Globe Arena. 

The Globe Arena is a unique place. It is spherical and lights up at night. This area has also developed a mall although this is a little underwhelming but there is the Djurgarden club shop on the second floor down. There are a few restaurants too and a bar although this is the Hammarby bar and service in the restaurants is not great. 

The game was exciting with plenty of chances finishing 3-2 to the visitors on penalties. A likely outcome you might say as Frolunda have the second worst away record this Elitserien season whilst Djurgarden have the second worst home record. The result means that the derby game between Djurgarden and AIK which is their game in hand could still be for a playoff place. 

The main excitement could be described as the Djurgarden fans. The set up of the arena means the Djurgarden supporters club have a dedicated section in which they are allowed to stand up, chant, sing and generally make noise. It is a great concept as it encourages a great atmosphere and rewards fans who join the supporters club by giving them cheaper tickets. 

This could be something for other clubs to attempt. Any money lost in the cheaper tickets could be made back by getting more people through door because it is a better atmosphere. Tonight’s attendance was over 7500 and probably half were in the fan club. 

Some other tips that are worth bearing in mind are that on the T-Bana (Stockholm’s underground) trains on different lines may arrive at the same level of a station and that alcohol sales are controlled tightly so drinking is only allowed in special areas of the concourse and in your seat.

Tomorrow is a special day. Tomorrow is Bandy day.


Today again was game day but with a bit of a change pace for it is a bandy game day instead of ice hockey.

Bandy is the more traditional form of ice hockey. Played outside, 11 v 11 with 45 minute halves. The rest of the rules I am unsure of but seem similar to ice hockey. 

Tonight’s game was between reigning champions and home side Hammarby and visitors Vila Lindkoping. Hammarby are considered as the third sports club in many ways in Stockholm. This is mainly due to their relatively poor showing in the two biggest sports ice hockey and soccer. However Hammarby have one of the biggest portfolios of sporting teams including soccer, handball, floorball, bandy and even speedway. 

It somewhat of a shame that Hammarby no long boasts an ice hockey team though. After all Hovet and the Globe is in the heart of the Hammarby area of Stockholm. But following financial problems that operation ceased but a new Hammarby ice hockey team is making its way through the ranks. The fans however do not see it that way. Their enthusiasm for their part of Stockholm is obvious as much here as in any other sport with a fan club in full flow.

Bandy is played at the Zinkensdamm stadion. A multi use facility with two terraced stands along each side. It is small, compact but tidy stadium. Tickets are available on the day but it is cash only on the gate. Get there early as it does get very busy. Tonight’s game looked pretty full. There is a Hammarby club shop inside but the main club shop is on the local main road. There is also a good Irish pub on the corner near the stadium. The menu is in English and all staff speak English plus they serve good Swedish food something that seems rare in Stockholm. 

The game itself is good a more graceful form of ice hockey it could be described as were goals just come out of nowhere. It finishes 6-3 to the home side.


Today was the last full day in Stockholm and today’s destination was to Solna home of our third sports club of this trip to Sweden’s capital. AIK. 

Solna is to the north of the city centre and represents the largest area of any of Stockholm’s sports club. AIK are also the biggest in terms of numbers and probably the most famous outside of Sweden due to the success of its soccer team. 

In the heart of Solna is Stockholm’s biggest stadium and in many ways its present national stadium. Rosunda is home to AIK and not just in a soccer sense. The club shop and offices are also here. At present with the building of a national stadium though to the south, opposite the Globe Arena it is not clear what will happen to AIK and the Rosunda as a move will be controversial playing alongside the Soderstadion, home to Hammarby. However AIK is much more than a soccer club. Hosting several organisations including handball, floorball, volleyball and even a golf club as well as its ice hockey team. 

The latter of course has already made the move south to the Royal Court, Hovet, and the Globe arena. It is here where AIK took on Farjestad in the Elitserien. Neither team have set the league on fire this season with Farjestad just about in the final playoff place and AIK three places below in the relegation zone. But just two points higher than AIK are Djurgarden making tonight’s match up even more important for Sweden’s black and gold, AIK. A win could send Djurgarden into the relegation zone going into the game on the 14th between the two at the Globe Arena.

There are two things that strike you as different when you arrive here to watch a different home team. Firstly follows on from something that Dave Simms said about teams in the UK. That some teams just try harder to get you in. It appears that way here. AIK tonight have gotten less VIP’s. Indeed the restaurant level at Hovet does not appear to have anyone in it yet on Tuesday both that level and the upper bar level were full. Also the merchandising is smaller, the kids zone that Djurgarden put on with air hockey tables is non existant and the banners instead of hanging in the rafters are drapped over the barriers at the bottom of the stands. The fan zone too is much smaller. There are number of reasons why this can be the case. Top of the list is that hockey is not the top priority it is for Djurgarden as soccer is probably that. One thing is for sure there are fewer people here.

The second thing that I did not notice on Tuesday is segregation. The away fans today have a separate entrance and are blocked off on the concourse and in the stadium. There are still away fans elsewhere but there is more of a definite different area tonight. Perhaps it is because of the reputation that has come with AIK fans for fighting but I have only ever heard of this when they play Djurgarden. What is probably more the case is number of factors. One is that due to the passionate nature of fans in Sweden it creates a better atmosphere when they are separated and two is down to the fact that a team’s fan club can sell away tickets. The second is something that clubs should do as it would be easier to combine sales with travel and offset costs and so result in more travellers, high attendances and atmosphere because of it. That does not explain the presence of police inside the arena though and they are not just the ones who got bored outside waiting for the concert at the globe and the hockey at Hovet to finish.

The fans tonight may not be as numerous as the previous night but they still love their sports club highlighted by the reception for the guest of honour AIK football team. 

The game itself is a feisty, end to end affair that almost ended in a bench brawl. As it was AIK held on for 3-2 win and with Djurgarden coming back from a 2 goals down only to lose 3-2 AIK only leapfrogged MODO who lost in their game and their arch rivals to lay 3 points off the Farjestad and the play offs.


Well folks that was that. As I head back to the airport the Blueliner tour is over with for at least another year. Stockholm has been great. It is a place that loves its sports whether it is soccer, hockey, bandy or any of the other sports the clubs of this city play. It is also a place of history, beauty and passion. Its people love their city and love their team. If you want to go anywhere to see a hockey game I would recommend here. It is easy to get around, good fans, good pubs, good places to eat.

So what next? It is unsure whether there will be a tour next calender year but rest assured that is for good reason. For in 2012/ 2013 season the Blueliner Hockey Tour will head to the NHL and the city of Vancouver.

- Neil Tucker

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