Stars forward Eric Nystrom made no secret about how much he missed the NHL during the lockout. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy where he spent while the NHL wasn’t playing. Nystrom was one of seven Stars who played in Europe, and he landed in Norway with the Stavanger Oilers in that country’s top division.
“It was amazing. I had so much fun,” Nystrom, a New York native, said. “I guess you realize how spoiled we are over here. Some of those guys are going to a construction job two hours before practice, and then they are going for a few more hours after practice. They just play because they love the game. It was refreshing. It was a really, really close team. It was a lot of fun.”
Nystrom played six games for Stavanger, racking up 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists).
“The guys were all skilled. The systems play is a little different, it’s not as tight system-wise. It was a little bit of a run-and-gun,” Nystrom said. “It’s not known as the strongest league in Europe, but it was perfect. It was just what I needed. I had a great time.”
Stars forward Tom Wandell suited up in the top league in Europe, playing for Severstal Cherepovets in Russia’s KHL.
“It was good. Good hockey when the NHL is not playing,” said Wandell, who is from Sweden. “That is the second best league. And then there were locked out players there – (Evgeni) Malkin, (Ilya) Kovalchuk – so it gets really going even more. It was a good experience for me.”
And it was just what he needed as well.
“Minutes on the ice, I pretty much played 18 or 19 minutes a game,” said Wandell, who had 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists) in 26 games. “I played penalty kill, power play, all those important situations. That was good for me.”
Defenseman Philip Larsen got some valuable experience in one of Europe’s better leagues, Finland’s SM-Liiga.
He logged 26:16 of ice time per game, which was third most in Finland’s top league, while playing for Lukko. But it was also the style of game that was good for Larsen. The Finnish league plays a style similar to the North American game because many teams play on rinks smaller than most of those in Europe.
“It was fun. It’s a lot back-and-forth. It’s a fast game in Finland. It’s similar to over here and I think it was a good choice to go over there and play that kind of game,” Larsen said.
The game in Finland is more physical than the other European leagues, and Larsen saw that as a plus as well.
“I think that helped me a lot, too, not getting away from the physical game,” he said. “Once you get back it might take you some time to get that back. Now that I’ve been in Finland, I think that has been good for me.”
Larsen had 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-11 rating in 27 games, and it was almost like being home as he played with a couple of his good buddies from Denmark – Mikkel Boedker of the Phoenix Coyotes and Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders.
“We had a lot of fun, and the team there was a good group of guys,” Larsen said. “We played a lot and kept in shape.”
Defenseman Stephane Robidas played in Finland as well. It was an opportunity to keep sharp and stay in shape, but he was missing some parts of his life.
“It was a good experience, but it was tough being away from the family,” Robidas said. “It was good hockey and I played for a good organization. Helsinki was a beautiful city.”
Finnish food received a favorable review from Robidas, who is from Quebec.
“The food was great. One of their famous dishes is reindeer with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. It was really, really good,” Robidas said. “There was a pub downtown that had the best wings I’ve ever had. The wings were small, but crispy. They had a lot of good, cream-based soups. The portions are smaller than North America, but after your meal you are kind of full. They had really good bread. For breakfast, at the hotel, the bread was fresh baked, almost coming out of the oven. No complaints about the food. It was really good.”
For Nystrom, there was one dish in Norway that stood out.
“They have the best salmon I ever tasted in my life,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
Not everything was the best ever. The travel could be tough at times.
“You’d generally fly to Oslo and then bus from Oslo to where ever the city was. We’d usually travel the same day of the game. It was tough,” Nystrom said. “Home-ice advantage was big in that league. It was a good experience, it gets you mentally tough. It was awesome.”
There was some tough travel for Wandell in Russia’s KHL.
“You can sit at the airport and wait for hours to get on the plane, and the trips are long sometimes,” Wandell said. “It’s a thing you get used to, so I didn’t mind.”
Robidas had no problems with travel. Most of it was done by bus, and a lot of his team’s opponents were close by. There was only one opponent that required a plane trip. He raved about Finland and Helsinki and could see going back there some day.
“It’s a beautiful country,” Robidas said.
Wandell’s team was located in Cherepovets, an industrial city with a population of about 300,000 people. Not exactly a hot spot, according to Wandell, but the trips to Russia’s major cities were worth it.
“The town I was in there was not much to do. More hockey, I guess,” Wandell said. “Moscow and St. Petersburg were great cities, and good teams to play against. I really liked those cities, Moscow especially. It’s a city I always wanted to go to. I enjoyed it a lot.”
And it’s apparent Stavanger, Norway ranks pretty high on Nystrom’s list of cities these days.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “It was on the west coast, right on the water with mountains and fjords. It was a great life experience.”
Stats for Stars in Europe
Here are the statistics for Dallas Stars players who played in Europe during the lockout.
|Jamie Benn||Hamburg (DEL/Germany)||19||7||13||20||+8||30|
|Loui Eriksson||Davos (NLA/Switzerland)||7||3||3||6||+1||0|
|Jaromir Jagr||Kladno (Czech Republic)||34||24||33||57||+22||28|
|Philip Larsen||Lukko (SM-Liiga/Finland)||27||5||10||15||+11||24|
|Eric Nystrom||Stavanger Oilers (GET-Ligaen/Norway)||6||4||10||14||+10||6|
|Stephane Robidas||HIFK (SM-Liiga/Finland)||15||2||3||5||-11||22|
|Tom Wandell||Severstal Cherepovets (KHL/Russia)||26||2||7||9||-3||18|