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  Why I Love My Swedish National Team Jersey
by Brad Kane, Hurricanes Correspondent

It certainly gets a lot of strange looks.

My jersey, that is. The one I got for Christmas about two years ago; a bright yellow and blue replica jersey of the Swedish national team. I've got a lot of hockey jerseys in my collection, but none quite like "Tre Kronor". I love it, I really do, just like I love most things related to Sweden -- the language, the snow, the big sweaters, the idea of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Swedish lass, heck, even the clogs. (OK, well, maybe it's really the fourth item on that list I really, really like.)

But, there's always the jersey. It's a home model. Yellow, with blue shoulders and three blue crowns on the front -- hence the term "Tre Kronor", or "three crowns" for those of you not in the Swedish know. (No need to feel left out for not knowing that, though. There's only a select few that are truly up on their Swedish culture. Sadly, I am not one of them.)

It's also got a lot of holes in it. It came like that. Tiny little holes that almost make it look like a practice jersey. After much thought, and some rather emotional and spirited debate with myself about this one (hey, I was pretty mad because I thought it WAS only a practice jersey), I've decided that the holes are there for a reason. In fact, I'd bet lots and lots of Swedish money (whatever it's called) that the holes are what make Swedish players skate so much better than mere North Americans do. Think about it -- more holes equals less wind resistance which means greater speed. A HA! Now you know. Peter Forsberg, I'm calling you out!

My jersey pretty much goes where I go. That means it's been to some pretty exotic places. The convenience store right down the street, for one. Always gets a lot of weird looks there. Sort of makes it seem like the tub of butter that's been sitting in the back of the fridge down there for six months came alive and tried to buy a gallon of milk and a newspaper.

It's also been to Florida and back. Yep, that's right. It saw more sun in one week that most Swedish folks see in a lifetime. I wore it to a Panthers-Avalanche game down there a few years back. Walking through the promenade at Miami Arena that's only slightly wider than the hallway in my house, I got accosted by a group of blond, smiling people that I assume were Swedish. Why? Well, they weren't speaking English, they seemed really excited and a few of them were pointing at my chest. After a few seconds I made the connection, and I moved around them as effortlessly as Mats Sundin on a breakaway.

After avoiding what could have been an embarrassing setback for US-Sweden relations (hey, I don't know Swedish and trust me, you don't want me as an ambassador), I got accosted yet again. This time it was a drunk guy, which there seems to be a lot of in Miami Arena. His eyes lit up when he saw me. He slowly lifted his arm up and slowly extended his index finger in my general direction. (Hey, I did say he was drunk). I could feel it coming. That moment of recognition I've gotten so many times in the past, that moment when all the neurons connect and fire at once, that moment of true clarity that happens to people who've only ever watched hockey at the Olympics. Now, it was happening again. I closed my eyes in full anticipation of the blast...

"Hey, isn't that Finland?"

I stopped thinking about whatever I was thinking at the time (probably how good that girl in the group of Swedish folks looked), and started to shake my head. Slowly at first, then more rapidly. I shook. I trembled. I felt like vomiting. Finland? The hated enemy? The despised arch-rival? The country of reindeer-loving, funny-hat-wearing, Teemu Selanne lovers? How could he be so wrong? Even in a state of accelerated alcohol saturation, how could he be so tactless, so uncaring, so fast-and-loose with fact? The countries couldn't be any more different. I mean, come on, let's look at the tale of the tape:

--Sweden is covered with snow nine months out of the year. Finland is covered with snow nine months out of the year.

--Swedish people are predominately blond haired, blue eyed. Finnish people are predominately blond haired, blue eyed.

--In Sweden, the main sports of choice are hockey and soccer. In Finland, the main sports of choice are hockey and soccer.

--Swedish hockey players have great names like Hakan Loob and Per Djoos. Finnish hockey players have great names like Kari Takko and Jyrki Lumme.

--The Swedish national team jersey is yellow and blue. The Finnish national team jersey is white and blue.

There you have it. The two countries couldn't be any more different. He was clearly wrong, and after a brief explanation, I was on my way again.

The jersey also brings me luck at my fantasy hockey league drafts. That's subjective of course, but I'd like to believe that it does. For some reason, though, every year I keep wanting to take Johan Garpenlov or Mikael Andersson with my first pick. That's a hard habit to break, and maybe one day soon I will...

But you know what I like best about my jersey? It's the manufacturer's label on the back of the jersey near the waist. Where most jerseys say Starter or, God forbid, Nike, mine says neither. Nope, mine was made by Pro Joy. Pro Joy! What a happy, succinct, name for a company. You are pro, therefore you are joy! Or something silly like that...something really silly like that. Considering that I've never seen another person wearing a Pro Joy jersey, I'd like to think that I'm sorta, kinda cool, you know? I'm original, I'm hip, I'm now. It would be even better if the jersey had actually been made in Sweden. It wasn't, but it was made in a place that's almost as cool (uh, Canada).

So, come February, when the Olympics are in full swing, guess where I'll be when Sweden takes to the ice? Um, asleep; the games won't be on until midnight EST. But, I'll wear my jersey to bed anyway. My dreams will be filled with the sights and sounds of Sweden running up the score on those poor, defenseless Finns, on the way to yet another gold medal.

NOTE: The writer would like all readers to know that no Finnish people were harmed in the writing of this story.

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