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Ericsson heading to Sweden to play for hometown team for free; for at least three games

TROY – As many NHLers are bolting for a paycheck in Europe, one player is heading there to give back.

Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson will play at least three home games for a third-division Swedish club, Vita Hasten.

It’s his hometown team where he grew up playing and they’re struggling to fill the arena.

Ericsson, 28, won’t get paid for playing and a third party has stepped in and is paying to insure his contract with the Wings. He has two years remaining on that contact that pays him $3.25 million a season.

“It’s kind of for a good cause, trying to help out,” Ericsson said. “You’re probably thinking how can they afford his insurance, but it’s one guy who’s stepping in and paying the whole insurance. I’m not getting paid. It’s just to get a good crowd going there.”

Ericsson lives in the town in the offseason.

“Hopefully it can generate some profit for the team,” Ericsson said. “Hopefully they can get on the right track again. It’s going to be fun to do this.”

Ericsson will leave Thursday or Friday and play next Wednesday.

“It’s an OK division,” said Ericsson, who compared the league to the East Coast Hockey League. “They’re a really good team, haven’t lost a game yet. I think they’re 8-0. They’re a second division team but just haven’t made it up there yet.”

The Swedish Elite League won’t accept locked out players who don’t commit for the rest of the season, which benefits the lower Swedish leagues and other European leagues.

As for now, Ericsson plans to just play the three games with the club and then return to Detroit.

“A lot of guys are moving now (going to Europe), if it’s only like four guys skating it’s tough to keep ourselves going in the practices,” Ericsson said. “There’s only so much you can do with that few guys. My plans right now are to come back after those games. I might have to wait a couple of weeks back home, see my family. I’m not in a rush.”

Six other Wings have signed to play in Europe – Henrik Zetterberg (EV Zug, Switzerland), Pavel Datsyuk (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Valtteri Filppula (Jokerit, Finland), Drew Miller (Breahead Clan, Scotland), Jakub Kindl (Pardubice, Czech Republic), Jan Mursak (HDD Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Damien Brunner (EV Zug, Switzerland).

“I’m a little bit frustrated, not because of the guys that are leaving, more because nothing’s really happened with the negotiations,” Ericsson said. “They’re trying to solve other things, too, but they haven’t really brought up the big problems for discussion for a while. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

All of the Wings are expected to return to Detroit once the lockout is over.

The players were locked out at midnight on Sept. 16.

This is the third lockout during NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch.

The first, in 1994-95, ended after 103 days. The last time the league locked the players out it resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.