When Princeton hockey alumnus Jack Berger moved to Sweden to play in the Division I league, he thought the coffee was free.
“It’s different there, it’s like serve yourself. They just put out pots of coffee. I’m like, oh, this great. You just go places and you get free coffee. I really like that about Sweden,” Berger said.
One day, Berger chose to go out for fika – a traditional Swedish coffee break.
“I guess you’re supposed to do it in a group like socially, but I didn’t know because I hadn’t been on one yet,” Berger said.
He went by himself, read a book, had a pastry and had four cups of free coffee.
“We’re at the rink the next day and the guys are making fun of me for going by myself,” Berger said.
Berger asked his teammates to show him what fika really is, so the next day Berger and several of his teammates went to another coffee shop.
“They’re in front of me and they’re paying for coffee,” Berger said. “We get our pastries and they’re like, ‘So what do you think?’
“I’m like, ‘This is great, but I think I like the place with the free coffee a little bit better.’
“They’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You can’t get free coffee anywhere.”
Berger was surprised.
“Apparently you’re supposed to pay for coffee everywhere and I was just stealing it,” Berger said. “So thank god no one ever caught me or got mad at me, because it’s this tiny town. I would’ve been banned so all of the pastry shops for the rest of the year.
“But that was kind of the wake-up moment that maybe I should ask people how things work over there. But I did not get in trouble. They gave me a hard time about that for I think literally the rest of the year.”
It was one cultural difference Berger encountered while spending his post-graduate year playing professional hockey in Sweden.
“It’s just much more of a laid back culture. They just kind of take life a little bit slower. I think they have different values, different priorities,” Berger said. “They value their leisure, they value their free time. They really sitting down and relaxing and being with friends and family,”
While the focus on family and friends doesn’t differ too much from life in the U.S., Berger said Sweden isn’t as focused on working.
“They just seem much more level-headed and balanced about everything,” Berger said. “I think that’s the biggest thing with that culture. They are so, so good at doing everything in moderation [and] they’re just very balanced people.”
The former Princeton captain had hoped to play in Sweden due to his Swedish heritage, and he heard good things about the Nybro organization from a family friend.
“It was definitely a bit of an adjustment in terms of buying groceries in a different language and cooking and living on my own, but the team was really great. … They did a very good job taking care of myself and the other imports,” Berger said.
Hockey in Sweden offered a different style of play, one that was more focused skating and training.
“I think one of the biggest factors is that they play on any Olympic ice sheet and so that changes the way that you can play a lot,” Berger said.
Berger said the game isn’t as physical and Sweden and is more reliant on skating.
“It’s not as much stopping and starting. It’s a lot of maintaining speed and maintaining possession,” Berger said. “I think that means the priority really changes the way the game is played. It’s a lot of systems and it’s not as much forechecking. You really are more careful with your chances. It was a different style and I had to learn to kind of control my play a little bit more, which people don’t do as much in college.”
For Berger, the most memorable moment came from a weekend when Nybro needed to win to earn a place outside the lower playoffs. But the Vikings played poorly for the first two periods.
“We went into the locker room before the third and a bunch of guys just were very honest about what we needed to do, what we had done and what was on the line,” Berger said.
The Vikings trailed by two goals, but came back in the third and won the game.
“It was a huge game for us down the line in the season,” Berger said. “It’s just [a] really cool, strong bonding experience that we were able to pull that off and battle through with almost everything on the line.”
While spending the year abroad, Berger traveled during his winter break and after the season ended. He visited Copenhagen, Stockholm and London. After the season ended, Berger and some teammates toured Gothenburg and Helsinki. He then traveled for two and half weeks, visiting Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Hamburg.
“I’d never been to Europe before and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Berger said. “It was just nice to see that at the end of the day, at least in the hockey community. … I think the people are just people.
“We might come from different backgrounds and there might be differences in opinions and things like that, but I think that if you’re open to communication and friendly that you could really connect with anyone, no matter where they’re from or where you’re from.”