Meeting Rangers promising prospect Nils Lundkvist

Courtesy of author

Dallas, June 22nd 2018. It’s getting late and some Ranger fans may have already switched off their television or stream after their favorite team passed on Oliver Wahlstrom in favor of lesser known Vitali Kravtsov.

They had 2 picks left that evening though and the last time the Rangers representatives walked to the stage, it was impossible to guess who they would pick. The name they announced was Nils Lundkvist, a 17-year old defenseman from Sweden. “This will be fun” was the first thing that went through my mind. Henrik Lundqvist with a Q, Nils Lundkvist with a K, and then Michael Lindqvist with an I. Maybe one day they could all play on the same team and give Sam Rosen the most difficult night of his life.

Living in Europe, I had seen some of Lundkvist, but not as much as Kravtsov. What I did see, made me happy with the selection. For the 2nd year in a row the Rangers picked 2 Europeans in the first round but unlike 2017 where Chytil played in the US and Lias was in Europe only for a few months, this could be the start of a great season for me. Traveling across Europe to watch these kids live.

And so it began. In November both Vitali Kravtsov and Nils Lundkvist played at the u20 Four Nations tournament in Hodonín, Czech Rep., and after a quick Google search (I had never heard of the town) I found out it was only 3-4 hours by car from Vienna. I had friends from Florida visiting at the time who are also die-hard Ranger fans and decided to keep it a secret and surprise them. I told them we’d visit Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, but instead of East, we drove North. After 4 hours we reached the small town of Hodonín and I could no longer hide it thanks to some massive banners promoting the tournament.

When we arrived at the arena, we got tickets at the gate and walked in. It was a small arena, but a fun bit of trivia for Rangers fans: It is named after Václav Nedomanský, the first player to ever defect to play hockey in the NHL.

Once inside, an older gentleman approached me to ask about my banner. We started talking and after a few minutes he asked if I had an extra copy because he wanted to bring it home to show his family. That’s when I realized this was Nils’ grandfather. I told him I am happy to give him the banner and in return he promised to have Nils meet me after the game. That was the first time I met Nils Lundkvist in person.

Fast-forward 5 months and I still had this plan to fly to Luleå for a game. I booked my flight and ticket for the game on February 28th and was looking forward to the trip, when 2 days later on March 2nd everything changed. In a game with Timrå, Lundkvist suffered an ankle injury. I reached out to my contact with the team who also set up the interview with Nils, and told him I was still flying over from Vienna since everything was already paid for and booked.

March 9th, the day of the game, I get an email from a local reporter with the question if he can interview me before the game. Through his contact with the team he heard about me flying in from Vienna and he wanted to write a story about it. I arrived at the stadium early to soak up the whole experience. It’s definitely one of the nicest arenas I have been to. Before warm-ups the reporter and I met up and had our interview (It’s in Swedish, but Google Translate may help out)

Handshake line after the game. In Europe, they do this even during the regular season

I posed for a photo with Nils Lundkvist for the article, and spoke a bit with him about his injury, the interview I had with him 2 weeks earlier and of course about his grandparents who still remembered me. It was a great start to the day. After a few minutes, Nils said he will meet me after the game with a surprise. I returned to my seat and watched the game. Luleå started off slow, trailing 3-1 halfway through, but they ended up with a strong finish and a 4-3 win.

After the game, the reporter told me to stay in my seat. I waited as the arena slowly cleared. Everyone went home happy with a narrow win. All I could think of is: “What surprise?” and after 25 minutes I saw Nils come out of the tunnel and walked up to me. He got his game-stick from the locker room and asked the entire team to sign it. I was having flashbacks to Helsinki with Vitali Kravtsov.

What a great gesture by this kid. I was so happy. We spoke a bit about his injury, what his expectations are for the play-offs, the city of Luleå and what I had done all weekend. I asked if he could take a photo of me with the stick and that was it. We said our goodbyes and he said “Until next time!” which was the perfect ending to a great game for me. Whatever happens in his career, wherever he plays. I am forever a fan.