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Why NHL Needs to Keep Going Back to Europe



BERLIN – I couldn’t find a German at the NHL Global Fan Tour in Berlin.

I found Inga Gozalves-Guillem, from Scotland, who brought her son Liam. Gozalves-Guillem was actually part of a group of seven parents who brought their hockey-playing kids from Scotland to Berlin. Their boys were dashing from the Hardest Shot, the Hat Trick Challenge, the Long Shot Competition, and more, as we talked outside Mercedes-Benz Arena.

“It’s for the boys. They’ve had an amazing time. They’ve been talking about this for ages,” Gozalves-Guillem told San Jose Hockey Now. “It’s a really big thing because the NHL is a bit unachievable sometimes to travel and go see. They’ve been excited for the whole summer [for this].”

I found Pelle Rehm, from Sweden, who brought his son Max. Max was wearing a Djurgardens t-shirt, and I had to break it to Pelle that the SHL side’s prodigal son William Eklund wasn’t playing for the San Jose Sharks that night against Eisbaren Berlin. Hey, at least Erik Karlsson played.

“We haven’t seen the NHL since they were in Stockholm maybe 10 years ago,” Rehm recalled. “That’s the last time I saw an NHL game live.”

And then it dawned on my short-sighted American brain.

The NHL playing in Europe isn’t only for the host country. It’s just as much for the NHL’s many fans in Europe, from unlikely hockey refuges like Scotland to hockey-mad Sweden, for those who can’t easily afford a trip to North America to see the San Jose Sharks or Nashville Predators but can take a relatively inexpensive train or flight within Europe, to witness Roman Josi or Tomas Hertl or Timo Meier in the flesh.

“It’s a good experience for [the boys] to see an NHL team,” John Cowan, one of the Scottish contingent, said. “It’s not something we get to see in Scotland or in the UK.”

And the players felt that too, including Swiss star Meier.

“It’s definitely special,” the San Jose Sharks winger said, after defeating Eisbaren 3-1 in front of 12,061 rabid fans. “We knew there’s a lot of people from Europe that [came to] support us and that’s awesome to see.”

Of course, there were German families and kids at the NHL Global Fan Tour in Berlin. But I didn’t need to talk to them as much anymore.

German hockey is fine: Between Leon Draisaitl and Moritz Seider and Tim Stutzle, the local kids have a lot to look up to in the coming years. Reminiscent of Slovakia in the 2000’s, when the likes of Pavol Demitra, Ziggy Palffy, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, and Zdeno Chara skated together, Germany has the makings to emerge as a true international hockey power, sooner than later.

But now, despite the distance, I get why the NHL needs to keep coming back to Europe. You can’t stoke a fire from 4,000 miles away.

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