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First Internet-created hockey legend surfaces

James Duthie
5/5/2008 12:17:05 PM
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I believe I'm one of the few humans ever to have a documented meeting with Horn Chen, the Snufflelufagus of sports ownership.

No one believed the reclusive former Ottawa Rough Riders proprietor existed until that day, when he made a brief cameo at a fan rally.

I pinched him on live TV to prove he wasn't made of wax or computer-generated. It was exciting stuff. I felt like I'd captured a Bigfoot.

I thought of Chen this week while trying to chase down Fabian Brunnstrom, hockey's Yeti ... Loch Ness Monster ... Live alien ... take your pick.

For the better part of five months, the hockey world has been buzzing about this undrafted late-bloomer, whom no one but a few scouts and Swedish Puck Bunnies have seen play.

The mysterious Brunnstrom never answered his cellphone when I tried to reach him this week, though I get so confused with their continental area code, country code, city code ... Morse Code ... thing, it's possible I was dialing a Thai massage parlor in Belgium. Again.

"I didn't just make him up," says Brunnstrom's agent, J.P Barry, laughing. "He is real. He is a very skilled player with a lot of speed."

The only footage out there of Brunnstrom in action is grainy YouTube video, which has become his own Zapruder film. Here comes the wrist shot ... Down and to the left. Down and to the left. It's impressive, though it took me three viewings to figure which one was Brunnstrom.

The lack of video evidence on this 22-year-old Swedish Elite Leaguer has only added to the mystery and hype. Nowadays, we are used to knowing everything about our future hockey stars by the time they're shaving. John Tavares highlights started appearing on SportsCentre when he was 14. The World Juniors make most top prospects household names years before they don an NHL sweater. So the potential of an instant, out-of-nowhere, American Idol-ish star, has fans in a frenzy.

Brunnstrom is the most Googled Swede since Tiger's wife, and he's inspired endless chatter on NHL thread-sites.

"OMG did you see that move on the video! Nucks plz sign him!" -- naslundfan.

"I'm praying for the Leafs to sign him. Sundin-Steen-Brunnstrom would be sick!" -- snipecheeseallday.

"Give him 10 mill now and the Cup is ours, baby!" -- hockeytown4ever.

So their expectation level for the kid is somewhere between Zettterberg and Jesus. Yes folks, we have our first Internet created hockey legend.

It's all Daniel Alfredsson's fault, really. The fact the Senators superstar also happened to be a late-bloomer from Sweden is enough for the bloghogs to proclaim Brunnstrom "The Next Alfie." That's what nine goals and 28 assists in 54 games in the Swedish Elite League gets you these days.

Fabian Fever hit new heights this week when he arrived in North America for a mini-tour of the teams he wants to play for. As many as 20 clubs have inquired about signing Brunn-ström, including Ottawa, though their interest has apparently waned. Vancouver almost had him signed until the Dave Nonis firing. Fabian's Fab Four shortlist now includes Dallas, Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto (with Anaheim reportedly trying to make a late push).

You should have heard the chaos in our control room when they learned he was at the game in Dallas on Wednesday. Our cameras scoured the building, searching for the first (North American Exclusive!) Brunnstrom close-up. When they thought they'd found him, we had to do split-screen with his Internet photos, to make sure it was really him.

He was accompanied by a gorgeous blonde, which instantly made me wonder if the Stars were going that "extra mile" to sign him. Turns out it was his girlfriend, Sandy Rantzow, who happens to be a European women's karate champion. Let's hope it works out, because that could be a painful breakup.

The next night in Detroit, TSN's Ryan Rishaug landed the first Brunnstrom 1-on-1 (somewhere, Oprah is seething). When Ryan asked what type of game Brunnstrom will bring to the NHL, he replied:

"I don't know if I'm ready for the NHL."

Oops. Clearly he wasn't behind the hype machine. He may want to enrol in the Sean Avery School of Self-Promotion.

"I think I'm an offensive-type player and I try to skate a lot," Brunnstrom added, likely realizing his first statement may have cost him a beach house and a Benz.

He actually came across as a nice, nervous kid, somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention.

By all accounts, Brunnstrom is a good NHL prospect. Just how good is where the discussion gets grey. I suppose it's possible he could be the next Daniel Alfredsson. Or he may be the next Magnus Arvedson. Or he may be the most hyped AHLer in history. No one knows for sure.

It is rather odd that such a dynamic player is eating cheese nachos at NHL playoff games instead of playing for Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, though Swedish hockey politics might have something to do with that. (Word is they aren't fond of Fab-Mania. They prefer the more traditional pay-your-dues path to fame).

For now, Brunnstrom remains a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma (apologies to Joe Pesci and Oliver Stone). With his trip to Montreal completed, he'll likely decide sometime soon where he wants to play.

Parade details to follow, shortly thereafter.

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