Doug Friedman can still recall the trip he took to Sweden as a member of a team of 12-year-old hockey players from Maine in 1983.
“I remember the hockey being very, very good,” said Friedman, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, went on to Boston University and played more than 500 professional games in the National Hockey League, the American Hockey League and the defunct International Hockey League.
“I remember playing in outdoor rinks and playing a lot of games, but, more so, I remember the parents and the kids spending a lot of time together and seeing all the sights in Stockholm and Avesta and meeting the people.”
Friedman, 40, was a member of the first team from Maine to play in Mekka Cup tournament in Avesta, Sweden.
Later this week, he’ll accompany the Junior Maine Mariners, a team of 12-year-old players, when it travels to Avesta to play for the Nicklas Lidstrom Cup.
Friedman, who now lives in Falmouth is an assistant coach, and his son, Jaxon, is one of the goalies.
“I’m trying to let (Jaxon) know the hockey is going to be challenging and just to have fun,” he said. “It’s going to be really, really neat for him to experience European hockey and represent the state and this country. Also, it’s going to be more neat for him to stay with a Swedish family for a while in Avesta and see what life is like over there.”
The 10-team tournament, renamed in honor of the seven-time Norris Trophy winner for the Detroit Red Wings, includes squads from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland and Latvia
A team from Maine won the tournament in 1998, but the trip is not just about competition.
“The value of the trip is really for the kids to understand a different country and a different culture and learn about the people of Sweden,” said head coach Scott Smith, who played at the University of Maine. “It’s not about hockey. It’s about the trip and getting exposed to all kinds of culture and new ways of life.”
At the same time, the Maine team knows it will be representing the entire country.
“Even though we’re going as a Maine team, over there we’re viewed as USA,” said Gordon Wakelin, the trip director. “Everything we do reflects upon the USA.”
The organizer of eight such trips to Sweden during the past 30 years, Wakelin said the players who were invited this year were not selected solely on the basis of their talent.
“We wanted to have a group of kids who are not necessarily the best players in Maine — and we do have some of those — but we wanted to have the best kids in Maine, the great character kids,” he said. “We’re not going there to win it. We’re going there for the experience.”
After arriving on Wednesday, the 58-person Maine group will spend four days in Stockholm before traveling two hours up the east coast of Sweden to Avesta for the four-day tournament, which starts Jan. 2.
When Maine teams began making the trip to Sweden, the squads were composed mainly of players from the Casco Bay Youth Hockey Association. The Junior Maine Mariners are made up of players from youth hockey associations across the state.
“For this group this year, it’s going to be neat because all these kids from different teams will get to bond together and build some life-long relationships,” Friedman said. “I still see guys I played with on that Casco Bay Youth hockey team once in a while, and we still talk about things that happened on the trip to Sweden.”
Most of the players on the Maine squad will be accompanied by at least one parent, but all of them will live with a Swedish host family.
“I still remember my host family,” Friedman said. “We still correspond. We email now, and Facebook, and all that kind of stuff. There are good relationships that came out of that.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: