OTTAWA – Christian Yngve was the coach of Team Sweden at the 1990 Women’s Worlds in Ottawa. In 2013, he is the head coach of the Austrian women’s team. In between, he has been coaching women’s hockey non-stop.
In truth, one would be hard pressed to find someone with his breadth of knowledge and experience in women’s hockey.
Born in Stockholm, Yngve played hockey first, of course. “A friend of mine had goalie pads,” he began, “and I started using them when I was about nine years old. Then, I saw Tony Esposito on television one day and I decided I’d be a goalie after that.”
Yngve reached the top level in Sweden as a junior and went on to play Division II, but he was forced to retire in 1987 because of a heart condition. He turned to coaching and wasn’t particular whether it was with boys or girls, but soon enough he started to focus on the latter.
“It kind of just happened,” he said. “I felt it was interesting and challenging coaching girls, so I just did it.”
Yngve worked his way up quickly to the point that he was named head coach for the inaugural WW in 1990. “Lars Karlsson of the Swedish Federation spoke with all the club teams in the country, and we built a list of players,” Yngve explained. “We then held tryouts one weekend and chose the team based on their performance.”
From there it was off to Ottawa for the historic tournament. Yngve’s memories are rich with nostalgia. “My fondest memory is from a pre-tournament game we played against Canada. We drove out to this arena in the middle of nowhere, and the rink was cold and empty when we arrived. The players got dressed, and when they skated out onto the ice the arena was packed with screaming fans.”
Of course, Yngve, like everyone else, recalls the success of the tournament with immense satisfaction. “There were the pink jerseys of the Canadians, the very supportive crowds at the games, and the sense of celebration of women's hockey. The championship game between Canada and USA was a sellout crowd. It was fantastic to see.”
While that first experience seemed nothing more than a “coaching assignment,” Yngve loved women’s hockey and has worked hard over the years to help it grow. In his case, he “has tried to help girls get opportunities to play, held coaching clinics, worked on specially-themed “hockey days,” toured the country speaking to and watching girls play.”
As Sweden struggles in Ottawa in 2013, Yngve lists the greatest players in Sweden’s history as he sees it. All helped Damkronor win the historic silver medal in Turin in 2006—and all but one have recently retired, leaving huge holes to fill in the current roster.
“I've been proud of virtually all my players,” he began, “and it’s very difficult to judge players from different years against each other. However, I will name a quartet of players who stand out to me. First, goalies Annica Ahlen and Kim Martin. They are great people and will do anything to stop the puck. As well, defenceman Gunilla Andersson and forward Erika Holst. Gunilla arguable the best defense to play the game, and Erika has played more than 300 national-team games."
Yngve is quick to dispel one myth surrounding the Swedish team from the 2002 Olympics. It is commonly thought that the Swedish Federation almost didn’t send a women’s team to Salt Lake, a supposition made more dramatic by the play of Martin and Sweden’s surprising bronze medal win when they got there.
“We had a plan for what we wanted to do to prepare for the Olympics and followed it,” Yngve explained. “The Olympic committee was on board and got the information they needed. Our Olympic committee nominates different teams at different dates, and we were one of the last to be nominated, but I'm not sure we were not going to go, as many people have said.”
Salt Lake was the end of one chapter in his life and the start of another. Having been with the women’s national team for more than a dozen years, he was ready for a change.
“After Salt Lake City, I got asked to help build two girls’ organizations in Rockville, Maryland, called Washington Pride and Montgomery Blue Devils. I accepted. I had some great people there around me--Kush Sidhu, Pam Weiss, Matt Revkin, and many others. It was fun and challenging to be part of developing the game there.”
Yngve stayed in Maryland for the better part of a decade, leaving only last year to take on head coaching duties for the Austrian national women’s team. The team failed to qualify for the Olympics at a pre-qualification tournament in November.
“We played well but lost to Denmark 1-0. The game was pretty even, but you can’t win if you don’t score.”
Although his initial commitment to the Austrians was just one year, he enjoyed his stay and wants to extend it. “My contract is done after this season but talks will happen soon,” he revealed. “We need to build a culture about how to practice and play and make a step-by-step plan to follow. But I like the players. They are eager to learn and want to get better. We’re just trying to be a little better today than we were yesterday.”
So after a quarter of a century coaching women, Yngve must have a secret for his success. “I love the challenges that it brings, and I enjoy the hockey,” he said, simply and passionately.