Steps away from where Sheldon Souray is holding court at the Lofbergs Lila Arena, there is a panel of windows, stretching from one end of the building to the other. On a Sunday afternoon in the middle of the Swedish spring, there is sunshine streaming in and the sense of déjà vu is palpable.
Almost a year ago, Souray was in a similar surroundings. His Montreal Canadiens were playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second game of the Stanley Cup final on a muggy Sunday in Tampa, and just before the end of the second period, the puck skipped past Souray at the left point and seconds later ended up in the Canadiens' net.
After the game, Souray stood by his locker, patiently answering questions about the play, as wave after wave of reporters dutifully trekked to him wanting to know how. And why. Days later, the Canadiens were eliminated, and now, after all this time, Souray is back in the heat of playoff competition, in this most unlikely of settings.
Souray is the last Canadian standing in Sweden, a member of Farjestads BK, which leads Sweden's Elitserien (elite league) final 1-0 over Vastra Frolunda, Daniel Alfredsson's team.
The opening game of the series, played on Sunday, must have seemed like old times for Souray, the way he was hacking and whacking away at Alfredsson, the Ottawa Senators' captain.
"Yeah, we've got the old Northeast Division rivalry going," Souray said with a smile. "But he's probably the best player playing here right now, so we want to be hard on him. If you're not, he's going to hurt you. I've seen enough of him to know what a great player he is. We respect him, but we have a job to do.
"At this time of year, you leave friendship behind in the corridor and whatever happens on the ice is what happens on the ice. Everyone's worked so hard to get to this point, that if you start letting up on guys at all, you're letting your teammates down."
Souray is taking his participation in the final seriously. That was the thrust of the guest column he wrote for the Swedish tabloid Expressen: that while some might think that locked-out National Hockey League players have little regard for how their temporary teams fare in the playoffs, this does not apply to him or his teammates. He has been here long enough -- almost six months and counting -- to be engaged in the task at hand, which is trying to win.
Farjestads came in as the underdogs to Alfredsson's team, even though they won the championship in 1998, 1999 and 2002 and their manager, Hakan Loob, is rapidly becoming the Swedish league's answer to Sam Pollock, guiding his club to seven Elitserien final appearances in his nine years on the job, an extraordinary accomplishment. Moreover, Loob, because of his extensive North American ties, knew he needed to create a familiar environment to help his NHL recruits adjust.
"Really, they made it so easy for me," Souray said. "I mean, I wish I were in Montreal, but the truth is, once everything got settled there and you could really focus on being here, I really liked it.
"I like the fact that there's not so much press around. It reminds me of being back in Alberta. You can live your life and be your own person and just blend in."
Souray came over in November along with the Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Comrie. Both signed with Farjestads during the first transfer window in the Swedish season. Comrie lasted only about 10 games and left at the beginning of December. Souray was the only North American to stick it out, but because he'd crossed paths with many of the team's Europeans somewhere along the way, he felt right at home. More important, he did not believe at this stage of his career -- after missing so much time the past few years, recovering from wrist surgery -- that he could afford to miss another year.
"Everyone had different reasons for coming," Souray said. "I'm not the kind of guy who would come over here and then quit on the guys -- take someone else's spot for a while, make someone else suffer and then, 'Okay, I don't like it, I'm going home.'
"I made a commitment to come here. Before I made that commitment, I talked to my family about it. It was something I was prepared to do -- to come here for the year. If you have the right mindset, it doesn't really bother you.
"It's not as if you go home every day and mark an X on the calendar until you can go home. I never thought I'd be here this long, but I never thought of leaving, either.
"Besides, if I was in Edmonton, or Montreal or even L.A., everyone would have been coming up to me, all the time, asking, 'Hey, what's going on?' You'd have gotten tired of answering those questions, all the time. Even calling my dad at home once a week, I got my fill just from that. When they re-, re-, recancelled the season, I said that was it. Thankfully, I've got something else to focus on."
That something, believe it or not, is an Elitserien championship. And while it's not Montreal and it's not the Stanley Cup, it seems to matter to him, and maybe that's why he's here, in a place he'd never heard of until last year, playing for a championship that means something to others, but as a result has come to mean something to him, too.