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FAN LEAVES SWEDEN TO FOLLOW PENS THIS SEASON

Tuesday, 01.17.2006 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
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FAN LEAVES SWEDEN TO FOLLOW PENS THIS SEASON

Imagine quitting your job, flying to a foreign city in a far-off country and living there for six months without knowing anyone in the area.

Now, you know what Andreas Hall went through – and continues to endure.

The 24-year-old quit his job, left his hometown of Ronneby in Sweden and came to Pittsburgh just to watch the Penguins play this season.

“Everyone thinks I am crazy when I tell them about the trip from Sweden to Pittsburgh,” he said. “My friends knew I had been to Thailand and other places, but they asked, ‘Now you go to Pittsburgh? Why Pittsburgh?’”

Well, the city is home to Hall’s favorite hockey team. And, since the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and brought in free agents like Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, Hall knew the time was right to come see the team in person.

“I have been a Penguins fan since 1990,” Hall said. “Sidney coming here is one of the reasons I came, probably the main reason. I am a big Recchi fan as well and LeClair. They have such great history here and there are so many players I like to watch so much.”

Plus, Hall wanted to see Lemieux play.

“I always wanted to see Lemieux as well before he retired,” he said. “I just thought this was the time to go.”

Hall’s interest in the Penguins was sparked 15 years ago by his brother, Daniel, who is eight years older,

“My brother is a [Los Angeles] Kings fan. He was watching hockey and he introduced me to the sport,” Hall said. “My brother had bed sheets with all the NHL logos on them and he said his favorite team was the Kings. He said for me to choose one and I chose the Penguins. That’s how it started.”

Hall was fortunate enough to root for the Penguins when they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and ’92.

“I got to see the first two Stanley Cup championships,” he said. “Those were the first two years I was following the team.”

However, it’s not exactly easy to follow the Penguins in Sweden on television.

“It’s quite difficult to watch Penguins games. They don’t show a lot of regular-season games. Maybe, a couple games,” Hall said. “The first two years I watched the Penguins, there was a channel that actually showed the whole season and only the Penguins. It was funny. One of the station’s executives was a Penguins fan.

“After that, it was a little boring in Sweden,” he continued. “They’d show three [NHL] games a week. Often they show us some of the best teams in the league or they’d show a team with many Swedish players. Pittsburgh has had some Swedish players, but in the last couple years, they haven’t shown many Penguins games.”

When Penguins games were televised, Hall had to rearrange his sleep schedule.

“Sweden is six hours ahead. [A regular Penguins game] starts usually around 1 or 2 a.m. in Sweden. I have had many nights where I’d sleep a couple hours before the game, wake up, watch the games for three hours, then try to go to sleep for an hour or two before you start school or work – even when I was in the military, I tried to do it.

“That’s one of problems being a Pens fan in Sweden.”

However, Hall helped convince his friend, David, to become a Penguins fan as well.

“He liked the Red Wings in the 1990-91 season, but I got him to come to his senses and root for the Penguins before the 1991-92 season started,” Hall said. “We watched many games together. He is still a big Pens fan and he recently ordered some Penguins gear for himself and his newborn baby.”

Hall nearly came to Pittsburgh once before, but the plans changed.

“I have always wanted to go to Pittsburgh and I have always liked Pittsburgh,” he said. “In 1998, I was planning on going with my father. We were planning a trip, but my brother moved to Tampa Bay for a year. The [NHL] all-star game was in Tampa in 1999, so we went there and went to the all-star game.”

Hall didn’t get to see the Penguins during that trip to Tampa Bay. Coincidentally, his sister and mother, who visited Daniel a few weeks after Andreas was there, got a chance to see the Penguins when they came to Tampa Bay.

In fact, every member of Hall’s family but Andreas had seen the Penguins before this year.

“My father lived in Los Angeles in the early 1990s for a year. He traveled a lot and he saw the Penguins,” Hall said. “My brother in 1999 saw the Penguins [in Tampa Bay]. Then, a couple weeks after my trip to Tampa Bay, my sister and mother went over to see my brother and they saw the Penguins.

“Every member of my family – but me – had seen the Penguins prior to this season,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone was just teasing me since they knew how much I like them.

“They can’t tease me anymore.”

Hall saved up his money, quit his job and headed to Pittsburgh in October.

“I have been working for three years and been living at home, so I have been able to gather quite a lot of money for this trip,” he said. “My job was not the job I wanted for my whole life. When I get back to Sweden, I will start something new.”

Hall arrived in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 with no place to stay or any area contacts.

 “I was at the airport the first day I got here. I met this older lady, Thelma, at the information desk and she said she could help me around. She helped me find a place to stay,” he said. “We went to the YMCA [in Pittsburgh] and I met this guy named Marlon. We were looking a bit on the computer for a place to stay. Since I didn’t know my way around, he actually asked if I wanted to stay with him and his other roommate [in Penn Hills] for a while and see how it works out.”

Hall has been there ever since.

“I am so happy,” he said. “Everyone I have met so far in Pittsburgh is so friendly.”

Hall arrived right as the Penguins were embarking on their season-long five-game roadtrip, so he was not able to get to a game until Nov. 10 against Montreal. He missed the Penguins’ first six home games, but plans on going to all the rest.

“Of course, that’s why I am here,” he said. “It’s a blast being here. Everything feels so surreal. The first game was crazy. It was so surreal. I have been waiting for this for 15 years. It didn’t feel like I was actually there.”

Hall, who travels around the area on buses, is impressed with Pittsburgh.

“I know it’s not a big city here in the USA, but it’s nice. I have been living in a city with about 30,000 people. Everything feels a little bit big here to what I am used to,” he said. “I had read about it before. The climate is pretty much the same as in Sweden. Perhaps a little bit warmer, but not much. I really think it’s great.”

Still, Hall misses home and his girlfriend, Helena, who remained in Sweden.

“We have been together for over six years and she was really supportive and understood that I really wanted to go on this trip,” Hall said. “I love here with all my heart, but she still thinks I’m a little bit crazy going all the way from Sweden to see some hockey games.”

Hall has little trouble speaking English, so it was not much of an adjustment to communicate with people here.

“That’s another part of making the trip. I wanted to meet new people and speak a foreign language,” he said. “I am trying to learn the language well. I want to speak more fluently and learn more words.”

Hall would like to get a job while he is in Pittsburgh, but is restricted from doing so.

“It’s a little bit difficult. If you go into work here, you need a working permit from Sweden and the USA. Right now, it’s just a long vacation,” he said. “I really would like to have a job here. It would be nice just to try it out.”

Nevertheless, Hall is enjoying his time learning about Pittsburgh and watching the Penguins. His friends in Sweden still joke around with him, but he keeps them updated by posting pictures of the games and sights around the city on a personal Web page on the Internet.

“Everyone still thinks I am crazy,” he said. “They have known about me wanting to go to Pittsburgh for so many years. They are very glad for me that I actually made this trip.”

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