After clinching back-to-back World Championships in Copenhagen in May, Swedish hockey is indisputably on top of the world. With two contrasting rosters at the last two tournaments, plus medals at this year’s U20 and U18 events, Tre Kronor has demonstrated an enviable depth of talent throughout the national program. We caught up with Anders Larsson, President of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, to learn more about the country’s production line of hockey talent.
This story was originally published in the IIHF's bi-monthly newsletter Ice Times. Click here
to download the newest edition.Congratulations! It must be a hugely satisfying feeling for Swedish hockey right now?
It’s a fantastic feeling. It was a great victory for the team, but also a big success for ice hockey in Sweden. It wasn’t just a winning team, it was good to watch. We had quite a young team with many players joining from the NHL, we played very fast, very exciting hockey. It was very nice watching them and they were really, really popular back home. The gold-medal game was watched by 2.4 million people – that’s one in four of the whole population – even though it was late on a Sunday evening. That shows the popularity of the game, and of the World Championship itself. Apart from the TV viewers, there were many Swedish fans who travelled to Copenhagen for the championship.
Yes, the arena was quite yellow whenever we played! I spoke to many of the players and they all said how they really felt that atmosphere and how the fans drove them on. And, of course, Copenhagen is a nice city, it’s very close to a lot of our fans, so many of them decided to spend some time visiting the city and watching the hockey. The roster in Copenhagen was very different from the one in Cologne a year earlier. What does that say about the depth of talent Swedish hockey can call upon?
We’ve been very lucky to win it two years in a row. If you compare this year’s roster with last year, only three players were on both. That shows we have a pretty broad base of talent. It’s the kind of depth that means 10% of the players in the NHL are Swedish. How are you able to keep attracting so many players into the sport?
Well, in many places hockey is almost a part of our culture, it’s more than just a sport. In the north, where there’s a lot of winter, skiing, skating and playing hockey are really a part of our traditional life. That’s why hockey is pretty much on a level with soccer: maybe there are more soccer players, but the two games are more or less equal in terms of popularity and support.
Our clubs are a real part of their communities. There’s something that distinguishes Sweden from sports in most other countries – our clubs can only be owned by their members. The members have the voting rights and decide how the clubs will run. It’s a system that really creates a sense of involvement for the wider community. And so, even though Sweden is a fairly small nation with just 10 million people, we are able to compete on a level with places like Canada and the USA. Numbers are only part of the story, though. It takes work to turn enthusiastic kids into good players.
Working together has been key for us, especially at youth level and player development. We want to attract and recruit as many youngsters as possible. We’re working with different groups, with boys and girls. We really work together, whether it’s in the smaller clubs, the elite clubs, the regions or the national federation. We’ve all agreed on the same program and it’s absolutely key that we all work as one family.
If the league wants to do it one way and the federation does it differently, it doesn’t work. We try to have everyone doing their part of the plan. Working together has been the key, and history shows that when we do that, we can get results. We had some big development workshops in 2002 and 2003 and since then we’ve really put extra efforts into our program. Now it’s fantastic to see what a pretty small nation like ours can do. And what about the future?
We have many promising stars, growing stars, in our U18 and U20 programs. What we have seen over the last few years is that many of our players have been successful for our national team or playing in the NHL after going through this program. Having 10% of the current players in the NHL really tells its own story about Swedish hockey.