STOCKHOLM – The Swedes are getting tougher – a major change in their hockey philosophy. On the ice, new head coach Pär Mårts likes to send two guys to forecheck, and when they have the puck, they’re suppose to drive to the net – hard.
The Swedish federation, in turn, is tired of seeing the nation’s young prospects get signed and shipped to North America, and they now ask all prospects born in 1993 and later to sign a contract with the federation, to keep them from signing with an NHL club until they turn 23. The contract is only applied in case there is no transfer agreement between Sweden and the NHL. The current agreement covers the 2011-12 season.
If not, the prospects won’t be eligible for the federations development program, including junior national teams. A breach of contract will cost €45,000.
“We invest about €3 million every year in prospect camps and junior national teams. The contract is a way for us to get some of that back in case the players leave Europe,” Christer Englund, chairman of the Swedish federation and IIHF Council member, told Aftonbladet.
“This only applies to players going to North America. If they play in Europe, they’ll be within the same system as Sweden, with all the same national team breaks,” Englund adds.
The players and their agents aren’t happy, of course. The players association, SICO, has also been critical and in a statement, signed by Kristoffer Sparring, the union chairman, they highlight a few of their problems: the contract gives the players no rights vis-a-vis the federation and the purpose of the contract is unclear because the federation only talks about their “wish to use players that have signed the contract”. The union also criticizes the out clause - if a player hasn’t been picked to a national team in 24 months, he’s free – as too long.
The first contracts were distributed to players elected to an under-18 camp in December.
Pär Mårts, the new head coach of Tre Kronor, on the other hand, is trying to make changes of his own. Last year, Bengt-Åke Gustafsson used over 40 players from the European leagues in his national teams during the season. The year before that, over 50 players donned the Tre Kronor sweater.
When Mårts picked his second team of the season, for the First Channel Cup in Moscow, it’s almost identical to the one he had in the Karjala tournament in Helsinki last month. The goalies are the same, he dropped one defenceman, and made two changes in his forwards.
In contrast, Finland’s head coach Jukka Jalonen only has six returning players from the Karjala tournament.
But Mårts does want to try new things. He picked a team with seven defencemen and 14 forwards as he may play all 14 forwards in a game, using four full lines with an additional pair of wingers to bring energy to the team, and to make sure his team can keep up the upbeat tempo he’d like to see.
“I don’t think you should be afraid to try something new, so sure, we’d have to play with six defencemen in that case, but I’d like to see how 14 forwards work, and not just think about it,” Mårts told Marie Hallman, a Swedish hockey blogger.
“Some would only play in special teams, and we’d spread out the ice time. I’m not sure how to do it best, yet, but we may try it in the last game of the tournament,” he added.
Djurgården’s head coach Hardy Nilsson, a former Team Sweden coach, also used 14 forwards during his team’s playoff run last season. It seemed to work, as DIF went all the way to the final.
And unlike last season, Sweden was close to winning the Karjala tournament. For a change.Notebook:
- Skellefteå has a 1-2 lead in the scoring race as linemates Joakim Lindström and Mikko Lehtonen top the statistics. Lindström has 15 goals and 32 points in 27 games, while Lehtonen has 13 goals and 29 points in 27 games. They will be facing each other in the Channel Cup in Moscow.
- Daniel Larsson is also on the Swedish national team that travels to Moscow. The HV71 goalie was also on the Karjala tournament team, and has since climbed up in the goaltending statistics in the Elitserien. His save percentage, 92.64, is the best in the league.