For the first time in eight years, the Elitserien hockey season featured an actual battle for supremacy in Sweden's capital, as Djurgården and AIK battled it out on the ice in the first of five games at the Ericsson Globe this season. But the battle didn't just take place on the ice. Before the game began, fans of both sides squared off in and outside the stadium. Perhaps warming up for the more contentious football match between the two clubs on Sunday, fist fights broke out during the warmups, delaying the start time of the game by 15 minutes. The fans soon settled down to let the players decide the victor, and when the puck dropped, it was the prodigal sons of the Elitserien, AIK, that took over. The reason there hasn't been a match between the clubs in eight seasons is because 8 years ago, AIK was relegated to the Allsvenskan, Sweden's second tier of professional hockey. They didn't immediately return, and in fact, got worse. The team was further demoted to the ironically titled Division 1 for the 2004-05 season. It was then where, with the benefit of the NHL lockout, they were able to use their old prestige to attract two NHL players: Matthias Norstrom and Georges Laraque. The team returned to the Allsvenskan and managed to stay there, limping financially and playing before sparse crowds. Then, with a little bit of investment, led by the signing of captain Dick Tarnstrom, the team worked it's way back, finally earning promotion by winning the 2010 Kvalserien tournament ahead of Rögle, who were relegated.
Djurgården, on the other hand, made it all the way to the 2010 Le Mat Trophy finals, losing in six games to HV71. They have a roster with several familiar names on it, like Matthias Tjärnqvist and Nils Ekman. Their budget is much higher than their rival, who are still suffering from their long road through the lower leagues. But on Tuesday, this didn't seem to matter. 2:17 into the game, AIK's Oscar Ahlmström came out of the corner, banged home his own rebound to give the "home" team the early lead. Patric Blomdahl, on the powerplay, gave AIK a 2-0 lead on a redirect, before Djurgården countered with Ekman scoring on a 3 on 2 break. Early in the second, 19 year old Djurgården forward John Norman scored on a rebound to tie the game at 2, and it looked like the game had taken on a back and forth nature. However, AIK responded quite well, getting 6 of the next 7 shots on goal, ending with Johan Andersson scoring his first of two goals in the third period to help AIK leave the 2nd period with a 4-2 lead. The game was all but over when Oscar Steen was sprung out of the penalty box on a breakaway midway through the third period, beating Djurgården goaltender Stefan Ridderwall fivehole on a backhand deke to close out the scoring.
Game Highlights, including pre-game fight in the stands:
For Johan Andersson, the two goals now gives him a share of the league lead with four. Andersson, a 23 year old centre who played in the Allsvenskan last year for Almtuna, was a man looking for work in the offseason. His Almtuna coach, Jonas Rönnqvist, was hired as the head coach for Luleå of the Elitserien, and brought 3 players from Almtuna with him. But not Johan Andersson. When asked if he had any other offers to play in the Elitserien other than AIK, Andersson said:
"No, there was nothing for me.But we have good contact, he is a fantastic coach," said Johan Andersson.
Did you have any offers from Major League? - "No, I did not."
-quotes from Hockeyexpressen.se link provided above
For now, AIK is the toast of Stockholm, as the scrappy, unheralded crew move ahead of Djurgården in the standings. Djurgården is playing particularly poor to start the year, and have slipped to 11th place in the 12 team division after 5 games. For a club looked to as a contender, these are anxious times. In a 55 game schedule, there is still plenty of time to move up in the standings, but each game the slump lasts will make it even harder. It's not quite as forgiving as an 80 or 82 game schedule that is common in North American professional leagues.
For the fans, the tensions that delayed the start of the game escalated afterwards, perhaps predictably. Outside the Globe, a brawl broke out between the fans of the clubs, with nine people arrested and ten more taken into custody. In a pub, upwards of forty people were involved in a brawl before it was broken up. Hooliganism isn't foreign in hockey (hey, I'm a Montreal Canadiens fan, I should know), but usually the hockey fans are less prone to it than the football fans in Stockholm. It should be interesting to see what Stockholm is like on Sunday for the football derby.
And just a reminder, we've got four more of these games this year. The next derby takes place on November 4.
For your viewing pleasure, here's the fans during the pre-game, when they weren't fighting in the upper deck: