The Golden Knights’ leading scorer William Karlsson can remember staying up late to watch NHL hockey while growing up in Sweden.
As a teen, Karlsson and his friends would fight to stay awake into the small hours of the night in Stockholm, often dozing off during the third period. Sometimes they would stay up so late they’d miss school the next morning in order to watch their favorite Swedish NHL stars.
“I always looked at the Swedes and watched how they were doing in the NHL,” Karlsson said. “Every morning you’d wake up to see if they scored any goals or points and get excited.”
Karlsson would sacrifice sleep to watch standouts like Nicklas Backstrom and Peter Forsberg, but for current hockey fans in Sweden, that player is William Karlsson.
The 25-year-old has exploded onto the NHL scene with 29 goals and 19 assists through 55 games and has quickly become a favorite among Swedish fans.
It was evident during Sunday night’s game against the Flyers, when a mob of Swedish fans donning his jersey took up a couple of rows at T-Mobile Arena.
They weren’t hard to distinguish, proudly wearing jerseys split down the middle with Golden Knights and Sweden’s famous blue and yellow pattern. The group of about 20 traveled more than 5,000 miles to see Karlsson, and then got to meet him following Monday morning’s practice at City National Arena.
“It’s been so fun watching (Karlsson) grow (in the NHL), and then when you hear that he’s a good guy, that’s even better,” said Eskil Norstrom, who was one of the fans to make the trek. “It’s always good to hear when guys are good guys outside of the rink.”
Karlsson took the time to meet each fan after practice, signing their mishmash jerseys and taking individual photos with each.
The unique jerseys attracted a lot of attention outside of T-Mobile Arena prior to Sunday night’s game.
“People were yelling ‘nice jersey!’ and they told us they love Karlsson as a player,” Norstrom said.
The group arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday and first went to see Swedish magician Joe Labero perform at the Paris Las Vegas. They hoped to see Karlsson score his 30th goal of the season, but he was held scoreless in the Golden Knights’ 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. That didn’t prevent them from enjoying the game.
“It was a very fun time,” Norstrom said. “This is my fifth trip to the U.S. to watch hockey and it is one of the best experiences I’ve had at a hockey game. Vegas is a good team and it’s sad that they didn’t have the scoring yesterday, but the atmosphere was very good.”
Before this season, Karlsson’s season-high for goals was only nine while playing a limited role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This year he’s tied for fourth in the entire NHL in goals with 29, and his home country has taken notice.
“He is the best,” Claes Lindberg said when asked why the group traveled so far to see Karlsson. “He is having a good season and going to Vegas to see a game sounded like fun.”
They’ll travel to Arizona today to watch fellow Swede and Coyotes all-star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Norstrom coached Ekman-Larsson during his younger years in Sweden, when he played for the Småland hockey club.
Most of the group is from a small city called Alvesta in southern Sweden near Jönköping, where Karlsson played for HV71 for two years in the Swedish Hockey League.
Now the Golden Knights’ first-line center is on pace for more than 40 goals and 70 points, and has become another in the long list of worldwide attractions that Las Vegas boasts.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “Just to play with (Rangers’ star goaltender) Henrik Lundqvist and Backstrom in last year’s World Championship was pretty cool. They are people you saw growing up and admired and now you’re playing among them.”