STOCKHOLM -- The party bus had officially become a party on the lower level as it traveled Nynasvagen/Route 73 toward Cafe Opera late Tuesday evening.
The dance music was turned up. The trips to the minifridge for alcohol at the back of the bus became more plentiful. Thirteen people occupied the 14 lower-level seats and others bounced around in the narrow aisle. People shouted, danced, snapped photos and constantly were on their phones.
In the 14th chair, a window seat near the front of the bus, rested the Stanley Cup. About 10 feet away, Stanley Cup keepers Howie Borrow and Bill Wellman sat beside each other and kept a close eye on the partygoers. They know from experience that this is the time of night when liberties could begin to be taken with the Cup. But there were no incidents to report on this night.
While the party amped up on the lower level, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya peacefully sat and conversed on the upper level with their girlfriends, family and friends. The Stanley Cup was Kruger and Oduya's for the day in their home country of Sweden after helping the Chicago Blackhawks win it in June, but they had no desire for the Cup to be in their immediate reach at the moment or for much of the day. This day, much more so than the first time Kruger and Oduya won the Stanley Cup in 2013, was about sharing their accomplishment with everyone else.
"I felt last time the privacy was more important," Oduya said Tuesday afternoon. "You want to do your things, kind of. Whereas this time, I think we both feel that we can combine some things and make it a bigger thing for friends and family."
Kruger and Oduya never abandoned that plan, from when they picked up the Stanley Cup at Stockholm's airport around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to when they departed from a nightclub around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Kruger and Oduya smiled for every photo request with the Stanley Cup, whether it was family, friends, fans or even the random stranger on the street.
Their first stop, at 10 a.m., was the children's wing of Astrid Lindgrens barnsjukhus hospital, where they brought toys, signed autographs and took photos. Next was the soccer stadium Friends Arena, where they spent two hours meeting fans. From there, they headed about 25 miles south to Haringe Slott, a castle in Haringe, where they hosted 200-plus relatives and friends to an outdoor party and left the Stanley Cup poolside for everyone to enjoy. Finally, they shared the Stanley Cup some more at Cafe Opera in Stockholm.
"Coming all the way here, it's a long way," Kruger said before entering the nightclub around 11 p.m. "Get a chance to share it with friends, family and kids from the area. It's not that common that it comes around, try to share it with everyone. We're happy so many people showed up. Overall, it's been a great day."
Friends, teammates and shoppers
Various words have been used to describe Kruger and Oduya. They're two players known for their defensive abilities, toughness and perseverance.
Alexandra Berhe, Oduya's girlfriend, associated Kruger and Oduya with another word: cute.
"They shop for food together, they cook together," Berhe said. "They're so cute."
Being Swedish created a natural bond when Kruger and Oduya became teammates in 2012, but they discovered they had much more in common. Their quick friendship led to their moving into a house in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood and living together for the past three years. Berhe and Kruger's girlfriend, Malin Molander, also lived in the same house this past year.
"I would say they're actually pretty close because they have the same interest for health and all like that. They spend a lot of hours together at Whole Foods. I think they're going to miss each other this year," Molander said, alluding to the fact that Oduya signed with the Dallas Stars in July.
Andreas Jakubowicz grew up playing with the 33-year-old Oduya in the Hammarby hockey club and has known him for more than 15 years. Having gotten to know Kruger over the past three years, Jakubowicz has come to notice a lot of similarities between the two.
"I can see Johnny in Marcus 10 years ago," said Jakubowicz, who was among a handful of friends who joined Kruger and Oduya for the entire day. "It's kind of hard to explain. They're very alike in many things. They're very serious. I don't know how to explain it. They're very determined. They're the same person. [Kruger is] a younger Johnny."
Considering how close they've become and that they both live in the Stockholm area, Oduya thought it made sense for the two to combine their Stanley Cup days into one. Oduya was pretty confident Kruger would agree to it.
"We lived in the same house for three years, so I figured: Why can't we do this too?" Oduya said. "He doesn't really like to set things up, so this turned out perfect. I told him what I had in mind, and he's like, 'Perfect, just let me know what you need.' And other than that, just showed up today. It was a good setup."
Berhe couldn't have imagined it any different.
"We lived together the four of us," she said. "They're like family."
Friends Arena event coordinator Malin Odell wasn't too optimistic for a great turnout when Kruger and Oduya set up an early Tuesday afternoon Stanley Cup viewing during the first week of school for many of the area's children.
So Odell was relieved to find an estimated 400 to 500 people, young and old, lined up to meet Kruger, Oduya and the Stanley Cup -- and every one of them got a chance to see the Cup and receive an autograph.
"It's very cool," Odell said. "The NHL is a pretty big league, so it's quite fun having that come here to Sweden. We Swedes are quite big hockey fans, so it's very, very cool to have this coming to Friends Arena. We appreciate having this kind of event here at the arena. The fun part is the schools started this week, so we weren't expecting lots of people. We didn't know how many people would come, so we're very, very positive to the amount of people who came."
Johan Frisch, 45, brought four children to the event. Two of the children were pulled out of school for it, and the other two hadn't started classes yet.
"That's fine," said Frisch of the kids' missing school. "I think [seeing the Stanley Cup] is cool. They're Swedish and we're proud to have Swedes doing well in the U.S."
Elias Bernstrom, 11, walked away with a picture and autographs. "It was cool," said Bernstrom, who plays hockey.
Wearing a Blackhawks jersey, Leif Elovsson, 59, had a similar reaction: "It's huge. We don't see them a lot, and all the games go in the middle of the night. You can't stay up all the time and watch the games. I've been a Blackhawks fan since they took in a lot of Swedes."
Lifting the Cup again
Lennart Enstrom had hoisted the Stanley Cup when he was 63 years old during Niklas Kronwall's Cup day in Sweden in 2008.
Enstrom decided Tuesday he wanted to try it again as a 70 year old.
While Kruger was being interviewed by one Swedish media outlet, the Cup keepers were being interviewed by a second outlet and Oduya was standing elsewhere, Enstrom and a handful of other fans gazed at the Cup while Friends Arena staff looked on. Without seeking permission, Enstrom grabbed each end of the Cup and began his mission. His knees wobbled and nearly buckled from the Cup's weight as he attempted to transfer it from waist level to over his head.
From the corner of his eye, Kruger noticed what Enstrom was doing and quickly moved away from the microphone and took a step toward Enstrom as it appeared Enstrom and the Cup were going to crash to the ground. Before Kruger could get to him, Enstrom found enough strength in his legs, righted himself and raised the Stanley Cup over his head. A big smile came across Enstrom's face, while Kruger breathed a sigh of relief and others captured photos of the moment.
"I am not strong," Enstrom said in his limited English afterward.
When asked what it felt like to lift the Stanley Cup again, Enstrom simply said, "Very good."
Final goodbye to the Blackhawks
The Blackhawks and their logo couldn't be missed on this day.
Highlights from the playoffs were shown on the giant screen at Friends Arena. A photo booth at the castle had the Blackhawks' logo and pictures of Kruger and Oduya on it. They signed hundreds of photos of themselves in Blackhawks sweaters. The champagne glasses possessed a Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship emblem. Blackhawks hats were passed out to family and friends while in transit to the nightclub.
All of that made sense. Kruger and Oduya won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last season and had been teammates in Chicago for three and a half seasons. Their friend and the day's events organizer, Jonas Gothberg, made sure to prominently display that. But for Oduya, there was an added significance to the Blackhawks presence to the day, as he is no longer part of the organization.
Oduya didn't feel strange being associated with the Blackhawks throughout Tuesday, but the day had a clear meaning for him.
"I see this as kind of an ending to what's before," said Oduya, who was given a few Stars items to sign at Friends Arena. "From this day, I can kind of move forward. Of course, you get mixed emotions at some point. I could have had this day in June and it wouldn't have been a problem. I see it as the final or whatever you say of what was, and this day forward you can move on."
Kruger wasn't moving on just yet either.
"I haven't seen him in their uniform yet," Kruger said. "In my mind, he's probably still in a Blackhawks one."
Now like a family splitting apart with Oduya going to Dallas, Kruger will miss his friend, teammate and Whole Foods shopper.
"Johnny's been great," Kruger said. "Obviously having him around and being a little bit older for a guy like me to look up to, it's been great for me. I learned a lot from him being a pro. Obviously sad to see him go, leave for Dallas, but I mean, I'm still happy for him to get to a good situation and a good team."
And on Wednesday morning, Oduya closed his chapter with the Blackhawks by saying goodbye to the Stanley Cup. But he certainly hopes this is not the last day he will spend with it.
"I hope so," Oduya said. "It's always tough with any type of predictions like that, but I feel we have a competitive team. I think they've shown before it's going in the right direction. It's a young team. Obviously it's necessary to take a couple of steps to move forward and kind of break the barrier."