Next week it will be two months since I arrived in Sweden. The time has absolutely flown by and I find myself thinking about how I’m going to feel when my time left in Sweden is less than the time I have already spent here. In short, the past weeks have been everything I have hoped for and more. The level of hockey in the Riksserien is very high and it has been challenging and exciting being back in a competitive hockey environment. Our coach mentioned the other day that the season is now 1/3 over…! It seems like we just started playing league games.
Everyday has been a new experience whether it’s the food, the city, the language, or comparing the cultural differences between North America and Sweden with the girls on my team – which has proven quite entertaining.
This past weekend we had away games against Modo on Saturday and Munksund on Sunday. We left Friday afternoon on the bus to drive most of the way up to the rink where we’d be playing Modo. The buses we take are similar to the ones I am used to from university, with reclining seats and 2 or 3 TVs; very comfortable and roomy.
We drove for about 4 hours to the north of Stockholm then stopped for dinner at a restaurant near the highway; then another hour or so in the bus to the hotel. The next morning we drove to the rink where we were playing Modo. Apparently one of the other teams in their club had priority for their home rink so we played at a rink nearby. The rink was (or at least seemed to me) in the middle of a forest at a small ski hill. (Pic 1 & 2).
Playing an organized sport in a country that does not speak your native language is not so different than one would think. Most of the words said aloud in hockey (icing, off-sides) are the same in both Swedish and English. While understanding these terms has been easy, there are a couple things that have stood out for me: 1. Understanding the refs during the face-offs; I’ve been playing center and often the ref will make the players reposition their stick, feet or body in some way before they drop the puck. Generally, you can guess what they want you to do (square up, stick in the center of the circle) so it works out, but I really have no idea what they are specifically saying. The second thing is when the refs call a penalty; for example, in English they would say ‘Blue 28’ to identify the player and then do the signal for the penalty. So while I do know the colors at this point (blå = blue), the numbers are a bit harder to understand, especially in the loud atmosphere of a hockey arena. Many of the penalties called in the league are stick penalties and thus can be harder to identify, so there have been a few instances when they have called a penalty on me and it took a few curious looks around to make sure who the correct player was.
After the Modo game and a meal at the rink, we boarded the bus again for the 5 hour ride up to Piteå, where we played Munksund on Sunday afternoon. The ride home from Piteå started at around 3pm and we did not get back to Segeltorp until around 2:30am on Monday morning.
Prior to the trip, I was not exactly looking forward to the 12+ hour each way bus ride to these games, but I ended up really enjoying the trip.
The entertainment on the bus involved a few movies (The Patriot, White Girls, and Kopps – a Swedish comedy); I’m surprised how many more American movies some of the girls have seen than myself. All of the English language movies in Sweden (even at the theater) are shown in English with Swedish subtitles. Many Swedes have told me this is how they learn English so well, which completely makes sense.
We also played Bus Bingo, organized by Marianne, who is our captain’s mom and also serves roles of ‘team mom’/team treasurer/team manager and always travels with the team. Marianne had prepared homemade bingo cards and brought prizes for the winners (almost everyone ended up winning at least once). The bingo turned into an hour and a half of the players heckling Marianne who was calling out the letter/number combinations in an endearing combination of ‘Swinglish’; very entertaining. Some of the prizes were grab bags of costume jewelry so most everyone ended up wearing ridiculous pairings of their winning jewelry by the end of the game.
Some of the girls brought card games – UNO, and new one to me called Ligretto which is a multiplayer race game to get rid of your cards. We crafted a makeshift table of bags and pillows at the back of the bus and played a sloppy, 5-person game squeezed in the aisle of the bus. (pic 3).
It’s amazing to think how something like a card or board game can be a common thread between cultures… while I cannot converse fluently in Swedish or English with all of my teammates, we can most definitely connect playing a game where words are not the primary way of communicating… I suppose the same goes for playing sports like hockey; and perhaps our Ligretto game will help to improve our on-ice play as a team.