From left: Hakan Ljung, Joel Ljung, and Andrs. Additional photos from Wednesday’s game provided by Joel.
There’s an old saying that it’s a small world. For zamboni driver Hakan Ljung, his son Joel and their friend Andrs, they made the pilgrimage from Gavle, Sweden to our Nation’s Capital to watch some players from their homeland. As I was watching Wednesday’s morning skate, Hakan came by and started asking me questions about the Capitals. I would learn from our brief conversation that he had some unique stories about the fellow Swedes on the Capitals, particularly Nicklas Backstrom and Christian Djoos.
Hakan is a zamboni driver at the Gavlerinken Arena. Before Nicklas Backstrom was drafted by the Capitals in 2006 and became the Robin to the Batman of Alex Ovechkin, Nicky was just a kid playing youth hockey at Brynas IF.
“I met Backstrom 15 years ago. He was quite fat but after six months to a year, the body was going to be okay (he slimmed down),” said Hakan.
Hakan’s friend Andrs is a trainer for Valbo HC. His team went up against Backstrom’s Brynas team back when he was only 12.
“He had some neat skills and he was dominating on the ice. He was 12 years old and at the time, he was the youngest guy out there playing with a bunch of 13-year olds,” Andrs recalled. “It’s fantastic to see him become a big star like this. He’s the same great playmaker and shows great responsibility on the ice.”
Christian Djoos also grew up in Gavle and played for the same youth hockey team as Backstrom. Before the season started, Backstrom said in an interview that he was looking forward to seeing what Djoos could do on the NHL level. Djoos made his NHL debut this season and scored in his very first game against the Penguins.
“I first saw him when he was a little boy. He was a little shy guy but he was good,” said Hakan. “I always called him “the hockey star” and I don’t think he liked it that much.”
While the other Swede on the Capitals Andre Burakovsky isn’t from Gavle, Hakan did see him practice last summer in goalie pads.
“He was a good goalie. He was a part of a training camp where other Swedish NHLers trained together,” said Hakan.
For Hakan and his crew this was their first time in DC. Hakan has attended New York Rangers games from time to time when he was in the U.S. and even saw Wayne Gretzky play twice. After attending Rangers games at Madison Square Garden, dubbed “the world’s most famous arena”, he was also impressed with Capital One Arena.
“The arena was excellent, really nice arena,” said Hakan.
During their time in DC, aside from attending Monday’s and Wednesday’s Capitals games, they’ve checked out the Arlington Cemetery, the U.S. Capitol Building, the National Mall, the Air and Space Museum and even the White House. During Wednesday’s game, they got to witness Nicklas Backstrom’s first goal since Oct. 14.
Seeing the nation’s capital is on anybody’s bucket list and for this Swedish trio, the memories of their trip and seeing two hockey players that they witnessed a long time ago become NHL stars will be a memory that will last a lifetime.
By Michael Marzzacco