Ottawa Senators head coach DJ Smith hopes his team comes home from the NHL World Series with more than just an appreciation for Swedish culture.
The Senators are one of four NHL teams, along with Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto, who will play two games in Stockholm this week.
“We want to go out there and win, but we want to come back with a different team,” Smith said.
This season the Senators (6-7-0) have struggled on the ice as much as they have struggled on it. Unsigned forward Shane Pinto was suspended 41 games for violating league rules on sports betting, and general manager Pierre Dorion was fired after Ottawa was left out of the first round for its role in a void trade starting in 2021.
Meanwhile, the Senators’ subpar play led some fans to call for Smith’s firing, and boos from the fan base led to critical comments in response to captain Brady Tkachuk.
With all that said, Smith believes an escape to Sweden comes at the right time.
“It’s almost like a retreat of sorts where you can get away and play your game and play hockey,” Smith said.
“That’s the best and worst part about being in Canada is that the fans are so passionate and want their teams to win, it makes the players put a lot of pressure on themselves to try to please them, and I think sometimes they put pressure on themselves.”
Smith suggested that the off-ice issues had an impact on the team’s overall performance, but he was finally starting to see more organization and calm in his team’s game. The Senators enter their trip overseas with two wins in their last three games.
“If you watch the best teams, they don’t shoot themselves in the foot,” Smith said.
“I think we have to learn how to run the ball, but one thing over the last little while we’ve had that break to train and I liked our positioning and I liked our ability to get going a little bit better.
“For me, we just have to be consistent in the way we play, and if we do that, I think we have a chance to win consistently.”
The Senators will play Detroit (8-5-2), which currently sits in third place in the Atlantic Division, and Minnesota (5-7-2), but there will also be plenty of time for players to experience some Swedish culture.
Goaltender Anton Forsberg and defenseman Erik Brannstrom have been named as unofficial tour guides as the two Swedish-born players on the team.
“They’ve been leaders off the ice lately,” Tkachuk said. “They’ve got some different things set up, so expectations are high. I’m anticipating a fun time and good team bonding activities and from what they’ve told me so far they’re definitely passing the test.”
Some of these activities include players trying out padel, a favorite sport of Great Senator Daniel Alfredsson, who will be joining the team on the trip. There will be sightseeing, a possible scavenger hunt, and some fine Swedish dining.
Neither Brännström nor Forsberg is affiliated with Stockholm, but both have some knowledge of the city and are looking forward to serving as unofficial tour guides.
“We’re going to have two really fun games in Sweden,” Brannstrom said. “I think it will be a great week in Sweden.”
Brannstrom believes there are big benefits to the NHL bringing the game overseas.
“I think it’s really important to get the whole world involved in the NHL,” Brannstrom said. “I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to play in the NHL at home in front of family and friends, so I think it’s great.”
Tkachuk has had the opportunity to play in several international tournaments throughout his time with the USA program, but he feels these games will provide a unique opportunity for his teammates.
“What makes it more exciting for me is (Brannstrom) and (Forsberg) and seeing how excited they are,” Tkachuk said. “It will be very special to be able to play an NHL game in front of their family and friends who don’t get to experience NHL hockey on a daily basis.”
Smith says they’re still there to play hockey.
“Obviously you want to experience the world and experience it as a team, but at the end of the day there are still two NHL games and four points up for grabs and we’re trying to get as much as we can.”
NOTES: The Senators recalled D Jacob Larsson from AHL Belleville and were able to place G Mads Sogaard on the third goaltender waiver for NHL games outside of North America.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2023.