Martinsen’s tough job
by Risto Pakarinen|27 OCT 2018
After three years with the under-18 women’s team, Ylva Martinsen has become the new head coach of the senior women’s team that is looking for a fresh start after mediocre years.
photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
It’s been a long summer for Ylva Martinsen, the new head coach of Sweden’s women’s national team. The former national team player and under-18 national team coach of the past three years was appointed to her new position in May, but she couldn’t wait to hit the ice with the players.

She got her chance in mid-August when she invited thirty-plus players to her first camp and for tests. 

“I’ve visited the Swedish women’s league teams and met with the players during the summer, but now that we hit the ice, this is where the funs part starts,” she told about the start. 

Martinsen, 42, has witnessed practically the entire history of women’s international hockey from up close. She made her Swedish national team debut in 1991, at 15, only a year after the first women’s World Championship, and two years after the first European Championship. In 1993, Martinsen (then Lindberg), made her European championship debut and when she retired in 2010, she had represented Sweden in 191 games in two European championships, six World championships, and three Olympic Games – and had won two European championship silver medals, a World Championship bronze, and an Olympic silver and bronze medal. 

Before taking over the national team, she coached Sweden’s under-18 team to a silver and a bronze medal, giving hope to a hockey nation desperate for success on the women’s side. 

“Women’s hockey has taken such strides since my first games with the national team, both in Sweden and internationally. Now women have World Championships, we’re in the Olympics, there’s more media coverage, but most of all, the game has evolved so much, which is the best part,” she says. 

“Having worked with junior players, I know that they’ve gotten an education that I never got when I was in my teens. Now girls get to follow the same Swedish model as boys do,” she adds.  

And yet, Sweden’s women’s national team hasn’t had much success since Martinsen’s days, and a dream of an Olympic (or even a World Championship) medal is more of a mirage these days. Sweden has only advanced to the World Championship final four in once since 2007 when they beat Finland 1-0 in the World Championship bronze medal game. They finished fourth in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, but last February, their finish was a disappointing seventh place at the Olympics.

It was time for a re-boot. Leif Boork gave way to Martinsen, who then picked a new staff to help her. Among her staff of seven, two are women: team manager Johanna Malmstrom, also a former national team player, and video coach Nanna Holm-Glaas. 

“I feel that we have a good mix here, and even though I have a lot of respect for our predecessors, I also wanted this to feel a fresh start,” she says of her team in which only the equipment manager and doctor are the same as earlier. 

“I can’t promise that my way of doing this works with everyone, but I’m fully aware of the fact that I alone can’t do anything, I need the team around me, and we, as a team, with our different strengths, want to create an environment in which the players, in turn, can max out their potential.”

In the first Euro Hockey Tour tournament under Martinsen’s leadership, Sweden finished second, ahead of the Czechs and the Russian, but behind Finland, but the point they got for their overtime loss was what gave them the second place. It was a respectable start and a nice coming out party for 16-year-old Lina Ljungblom, who scored three goals in three games and finished fourth in tournament scoring. She’s one of a handful of her former silver medal winning under-18 players that Martinsen had invited to the camp.

Ljungblom is also one of the young players who haven’t made the jump to the SDHL, Sweden’s top women’s hockey league, but instead, plays on a boys’ team in her hometown. 

While Sweden has taken big strides with attracting young girls to skating schools, and creating the SDHL women’s league that is popular among national team players also from outside of the country, it’s easy to forget that women’s hockey is still in a pioneer stage. Out of 70,000 registered players in the country, about 5,000 are women and girls. 

“Out of the 5,000 registered players, only 200 are senior players, in other words, older than twenty. And then we have around seventy 20-year-olds, so the pool of players isn’t very big,” Martinsen says. 

“We lose too many girls when they hit their pre-teens, and it’s a fairly low percentage of girls that take themselves all the way through to senior hockey,” she adds. 

And those who do make it till have to juggle hockey with other work. After the seventh-place finish in the 2014 Olympics, the Swedish Olympic Committee withdrew their financial aid to the players. The Swedish federation and the Swedish Hockey League recently announced that they would compensate the players for their loss of income during their national team obligations. 

However, Martinsen’s focus is on the current national team and its season with the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Espoo, Finland, as its main goal. 

“I’ve been hired to re-establish Sweden as a top-4 nation in the world, and I think it’s a realistic goal and whether it’ll happen under my tenure or not, time will tell,” she says. 

It is no wonder, though, Martinsen is now expected to come home with a medal, like her teams in the under-18 tournaments did. 

“I just want us to play our best hockey at the Worlds, and at the under-18 tournaments we had some players that played beyond their abilities, and that was wonderful to see. We’re not dealing with robots here,” Martinsen says. 

The next generation is used to being in the top four and Martinsen hopes they will bring that attitude with them, even though she’s careful to note that the road is long. 

“The federation’s goal for all national teams, regardless of tournament, is to be able to fight for a medal, and it’s a journey. There are no quick fixes.”

“After all, this is hockey and even if you play well, the other team may just be better,” she says. 

For the first time in her life, Martinsen earns her living from hockey. Before taking on the head coach’s job, she worked as a policewoman in Stockholm. 

“I was a policewoman for nine years and it’s, at times, a tough job. I feel very privileged to get to work in the hockey world now, with great leaders and players. There have been times I’ve had to shake my head and wonder if this is a real job,” she says with a laugh. 

With a real job like that and a small child at home, Martinsen has little time for anything else, even playing hockey herself. 

“I don’t have time right now, but maybe later because there are more and more women’s veteran teams around,” she says. 

That, too, is a sign of progress.