Although NHL games happening overseas are certainly more commonplace nowadays - or at least it seems like it - they’re not exactly a new phenomenon. Did you know the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings went on a postseason exhibition tour in Europe in 1938? Paris and London were among their destinations.
Since then, the NHL has been… well, a lot of places.
From England to Switzerland; France to Belgium; Germany to Austria; Japan, Sweden, the Czech Republic, U.S.S.R., Finland, Russia, Latvia and even Northern Ireland - the NHL’s been around. The Bruins and Rangers even went on a 23-game European tour in April and May of 1959 that took them to six different countries.
The Sabres’ first international action came in September 1998, as the team traveled to Austria. The “International Challenge” featured the Sabres, Austrian teams and the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was also the Lightning’s first overseas action.
The Sabres beat KAC Klagenfurt 5-1, but fell to the Lightning two days later by the same score in a preseason match.
(The Sabres had also previously hosted Krylya Sovetov Moscow for a game in January 1976 - in Buffalo. The Sabres won 12-6 in the game, which was part of the Super Series ‘76.)
In 2011, the Sabres faced Adler Mannheim in Germany and came away with a decisive 8-3 victory in an exhibition game. The Sabres also played the Ducks in Helsinki, Finland, and won 4-1. The next day, the Sabres beat the Kings 4-2 in Berlin.
This week’s games between the Sabres and Lightning will be Buffalo’s first overseas since that 2011 trip. And just in case you want to feel old, only seven players from that 2011 Sabres team are on an active NHL roster this season. Many have gone overseas, and many simply aren’t playing anymore at all.
(Does anyone else remember when, with the Sabres overseas in Germany, they found Luke Adam’s bag.... still in Buffalo? Good times.)
What it amounts to: in NHL regular-season games overseas, the Sabres are undefeated. Granted, it’s a small sample size - and in the end, it’s meaningless, aside from being a neat fact. But hey, it’s still pretty neat to think about.
All things considered, this weekend’s pair of games between the Sabres and Lightning as part of the 2019 NHL Global Series will be very interesting - for a number of reasons.
The Sabres haven’t played in what seems like forever, inactive since Saturday’s 1-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders that followed a miserable 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. In reality, it’s only been a few days, but it’ll certainly be good for the team to get back in action on Friday. They traveled to Sweden on Sunday and have had a few days to get acclimated to the time zone change, plus some time for practice and sightseeing.
The Lightning, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four games. Their final game before heading overseas was also, coincidentally, against the Islanders - a 5-2 loss.
A trip like this could also be a good bonding experience for the team, and it could be especially valuable given their three-game slump. It’s still early in the season, but as they continue to lose games, Buffalo has begun to drop in the standings. Again, in the end, it’s meaningless, because what matters is where you are at the end of the season - but if you’re losing streaks of games in November, it’s not a great sign for what lies ahead.
This week is also undoubtedly a special treat for the Swedish-born players on both the Sabres and the Lightning - and there are certainly plenty. Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson, Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Dahlin, Lawrence Pilut and Linus Ullmark all get the chance to visit their home country, along with Victor Hedman on the other side.
And remember: if you’re in North America, they’re afternoon games! Friday’s matchup is at 2 pm ET and will be televised nationally on NBCSN. Saturday’s game is at 1 pm ET and will be carried on MSG locally, as well as NHL Network across the United States. That’s 8 pm and 7 pm in Sweden, respectively.
As fans prepare to watch the Sabres’ next two games - both happening in mid-afternoon in the United States - it’s also wise to think about what happens after the team comes back from Europe.
They’ll have a few days after the trip to get re-acclimated to the Eastern time zone, and shake off the jet lag, but then they’ve got five games in a span of a week as they face Carolina, Ottawa, Chicago, Minnesota and Boston.