In the coffee shop of the railroad station here there are photographs of the Swedish national hockey teams of the 1970s. Half of the players on those teams -- Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, and the Capitals' Rolf Edberg among them -- have left Sweden and now play in the United States in the NHL.
The Capitals and Minnesota North Stars have temporarily reversed that flow, bringing a taste of North American-style hockey to Sweden. The round-robin tournament here, which is sponsored by Dagens Nyheter (Daily News), Scandinavia's largest newspaper, pits the two upwardly mobile NHL teams (who, incidentally, have four Swedes between (them) against AIK and Djurgar'n of Sweden's elite league.
For the Caps and North Stars, the competition is a good way to break up the monotony of a training camp in Hershey, Pa., or Bloomington, Minn., and, they hope, gain international prestige for the league.
There is $25,000 at stake in this tournament for the winning team.
After their arrival, the teams spent the evening resting, adjusting not only to the six-hour time difference but to the outrageous bar prices (a mixed drink ran $8 to $12, draft beers go for around $5) and playing roulette in the hotel casino. Both teams practiced Sunday at the Isstadion, a freezing quonset hut of an arena. With 15 extra feet along the sideboards, and more room behind the net, the ice looks almost square to anyone used to NHL rinks. Capital Mike Gartner, a fleet skater, lit up like a kid at Christmas when he first saw it.
Two Swedish teams opened the competition Sunday night by playing a sluggish, mistake-filled game that ended in a 1-1 tie. The Caps left the match rubbing their hands and cackling to themselves.
Rolf Edberg, whose No. 10 was retired by AIK when he left to join Washington, sounded a note of warning. "These two teams did not play their best tonight. They can play much, much better," he cautioned.
For the people running the show, the attendance was much more disappointing that the esthetics. Only 2,668 showed up in a building that holds three times that many. Many of the fans thought that the ticket prices -- ranging from $12.50 to $20 (about twice the cost of a regular-season game here) -- were the biggest factor.
Monday's show between the Caps and Stars was far more successful. The crowd was only slightly larger, but they were involved in the game, loud and pro-Washington. But none more so than the 13 Capital fans who flew over for the tournament and came to the arena in full regalia -- buttons, jackets and megaphones -- and were photographed and interviewed for television and the papers. The local journalists seemed surprised that someone would pay up to $2,500 to come see hockey games.
In the third period, the Capitals overcame a three-goal deficit and tied the game. Mike Palmateer, recently acquired Cap goaltender, recovered after a shaky start and became his leaping, twirling, crowd-pleasing self. For fans used to the calmer styles of Wayne Stephenson and Gary Inness, the Popcorn Kid is going to be hard to take at first. He roams everywhere but the concession stands, hurls himself at opponents and doesn't mind giving them a quick slash if they persist in clogging up his crease.
Two other Caps were also busy in the third period. Jean Pronovost scored a hat trick, thanks in large measure to the hard work of Bob (Hound) Kelly. Kelly's punishing check had earlier drawn whistles (the Swedish equivalent of boos) but by the time the game was tied at 10:45 his determination had won the crowd over.
After 25 minutes of cautious, bruising overtime, Dennis Maruk picked up an errant pass, broke in alone and drove the shot past Gary Edwards. The second longest hockey game ever played in Sweden was over.