The Life of an International NY Islanders Die-Hard: Sweden

National Day in Sweden 2022
National Day in Sweden 2022 / Michael Campanella/GettyImages
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It's not easy to come across a nation of people as passionate about hockey as the Swedes. While parts of the country fight frigid temperatures and very little sunlight during the winter months, the cold weather allows for more hockey to be played. From Bobby Nystrom and Stefan Persson to Andur Kallurs and Kenny Jonsson, the Swedish NY Islanders of yesteryear have paved the way for current Islanders Sebastian Aho, Simon Holmstrom, and Pierre Engvall.

In the city of Gothenburg, not far from the northern tip of Denmark, lies a group of passionate Islanders fans. A city of 580,000, less than half that of Nassau County, is home to #NYISE - a Swedish Islanders supporters group founded ten years ago founded by Magnus Cedergren Larsson and Benny Ferdinandsson.

"We decided to create a hashtag for the Swedish Islanders fans, so we called it #NYISE," said Cedergren Larsson on how the group came about. "When we later that year started up a Swedish Islanders fans group on Facebook, we didn’t know what to call it, so we just kept the hashtag as the name of that group. We have discussed through the years to rename it because it’s kind of hard to find if you don’t know what to search for, but the name has stuck to the members, so we’ve never changed it. Today we are 231 members."

Fandom knows no distance

With a six-hour time difference and over 3,700 miles separating Gothenburg and Elmont, remaining a loyal supporter can be demanding. While European soccer n the United States has taken off over the last decade, due to the US being behind Europe on the global clock, the games are typically seen in the early morning or early afternoon. For those Islander fans in Sweden, games generally begin at 1:30 am, making catching a game challenging, especially during the work week.

"A couple of years ago I used to watch maybe 60-65 games of the regular season, week games included," said Cedergren Larsson. "But you get tired. You can handle one day at work after being up during the night but not more. We do have an active Facebook group during games, and there’s always someone else awake watching, so you hardly ever feel lonely watching, even if it’s in the middle of the night."

During the Isles' first two seasons at UBS Arena, matinee games seemed few and far between. While plenty of fans on Long Island enjoy the occasional day game, the earlier start gives Cedergren Larsson and fellow Islanders fans in Sweden the opportunity to get together to enjoy the action.

"We’ve been doing so since 2014, and it’s either once or twice a season," said Cedergren Larsson. "The locations have been Stockholm and Gothenburg. They are the two largest cities in Sweden making it easiest to travel to from the rest of the country. We are usually between 10-15 people at these meetups. Many of us have been participating since the beginning, so we have started to know each other pretty well, I would say."

The group has even convinced a former Islanders goaltender to join them at one of their meetups. "Once we invited Islanders alumni Tommy Soderstrom to the meet, and surprisingly he showed up. After we sat down and he answered all our questions about the time he played on Long Island, we no longer were surprised he came. I’ve never met a more relaxed and down-to-earth former world athlete. We loved every single minute of it, and it’s something we’ll never forget."

Why the Islanders?

For those who grew up on Long Island, it's pretty clear why they were drawn to the Islanders. While plenty decided to cheer for the big-city NY Rangers instead, many stayed loyal to the only professional team of the four major sports on the island. But for Magnus and those so far away, why the Islanders? Why choose to cheer on a team from the suburbs in a place many people likely have never heard of?

"I remember me as a kid in 1984 watching the game, or perhaps highlights, from the Islanders vs. Oilers Stanley Cup Finals on TV," said Cedergren Larsson. "I didn’t know about the four cups then, but after that, years went on and I didn’t follow the NHL much due to lack of coverage in Sweden. But in 1990, I bought an NHL Yearbook magazine, and as I started to browse through, I came to the page about the Islanders and stopped browsing. I then recalled my experience from ‘84 and thought to myself, 'Hey, this is my team'.

It's funny how some of the most innocent inconspicuous moments send you off in a particular direction for the rest of your life. For some, it may be a moment that caught their heart, or for others, it could be a player. Sometimes it's both.

"Looking at Pat LaFontaine’s stats from the 89-90 season, in my purchased yearbook, made me realize how he carried the team on his shoulders," Cedergren Larsson. "So, even if I hadn’t watched him play, he sort of became a favorite of mine. Watching clips on Youtube these days makes me just more impressed by his game."

Dedication and making a difference

For Cedergren Larsson, one current Islander he holds a special connection with is Anders Lee. A proponent of Lee's first call-up from Bridgeport in 2012, Cedergren Larsson's friends refer to the Islanders captain as "your boy Anders." Lee has been one of the good guys in the NHL both on and off the ice since making his debut, named as a finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy this season. Lee's work with Jam Kancer in the Kan has impacted Cedergren Larsson, as he has followed the captain's footsteps in an effort to fight pediatric cancer.

"After Anders' work with the JamKancer foundation, I started my own donation to Swedish children treated for cancer. I donated $1 for every single goal the Islanders scored in 2019-20, and added another $10 every time Anders scored. It felt great to do something for kids in need."

No matter the distance separating them from UBS Arena or the fans who pack the house each night, the dedication and support don't waver over distance. Though the Islanders may not have the biggest fan base in North America, they've been known to have one of the most passionate, which seems to have traveled overseas.

"I’ve never met another Swedish supporter group for any other American sports team that comes even close," said Cedergren Larsson. "I know the Rangers, for example, have a lot more fans in Sweden than the Islanders do. This is, of course, thanks to Hank (Henrik) Lundqvist. But despite this fact, I’ve never heard of a Rangers national meet-up - simply because there hasn’t been one. Either they don’t know how to organize, or, more likely the reason, their dedication doesn’t stretch further than Lundqvist’s career. We’ve had people travel from Lulea in the furthest northern parts of Sweden and people from Skane in the south to meet with fellow die-hard Islanders fans. That’s dedication!"