Growing Sweden's Game: Niclas Hogberg.

Interview with Sweden's Under 18 head coach Niclas Hogberg by Elizabeth Etue on April 1, 2010 in Chicago.

(Please also note that Niclas Högberg will join the Swedish women’s senior national team program for the 2010-2011 season. He has signed a three year contract. As Winih reported in April 2010, outgoing coach Peter Elander has been hired as the associate head coach for the women’s team at the University of North Dakota (NCAA Division I).

In the 2010 Under-18 World Championship Sweden won the bronze medal beating Germany 7-3 in the final game. They clinched a bronze in 2009 and fourth in 2008 which was the first year for the tournament.

Q.How has quality of the tournament improved?
A. It has improved. Needs to be better. We need to compete more; so more competition at home. Right now these players train by themselves. Then you make the team, then you want to play better; it is a mental progression from year to year. The first year is a “tourist feeling.” This is so big and so new, second year they came home and told everyone, spread the word. They compete harder in Sweden.

Q. Tell me about your preparation.
A. Now we have 4 regions playing in a tournament in Sweden for Under 18 players. To get to the regions, you have to have a district competition to make regional team. The Dream is the first district, then the region and then the Under 18 national team. Now more players put pressure on each other to compete. All these small steps are taking players in the right direction.

Q. How many under 18 players in Sweden?
A. I have scouted for 4 years and I believe there are 2-300 players. Small clubs have 9-10 players so can’t play in a league so perhaps we have to have another league with maybe 3-3 hockey so players can be in the game and then continue their own development. I want to know where there are all located so I am going to find out where these young players are all situated.

Q. Talk about your top league.
A. The Swedish teams are all senior teams. A lot of these Under 18 players also come from boys hockey. When girls are 15 they go to women’s hockey. We don’t have an Under 16 or Under 19 teams like they do in USA.

Q. How many games would the top senior teams play?
A. Top 8 teams play 30 games a season.

Q. How much practice time?
A. One practice a day. We have problems getting ice time, it is the biggest problem for the team, to have a good times to practice.

Q.What is the name of this new Swedish national league which is the top league?
A. Riksserien…"Serien" means league and "Rik" is national. (The Swedish web site: http://www.swehockey.se/Lankar/Riksserien-for-damer-20092010 lists all 8 teams)

It is two years old and the championship game on is broadcast on national television. I want them to do more. Today there are not that many people working with women’s hockey. I would like the league to work with each other. Make the league more competitive and get sponsors, we need more vision; an organization that represents each team; also televise more games and play more games. Lots of questions flying around. I have an opinion but no power.

Q.How many foreign players?
A. From outside the European Union we can have two players. Right now we only have Austrian, Norwegian, Spanish and especially the Slovakians who are doing very well in league. I think they offer the players jobs and a place to live. Some of the girls go to high school and play hockey. Girls also have a dream to play and go to college at the same time.

Q.Are there sponsors?
A. I am not sure how come we don’t sell to more sponsors. For example, the league name is just “ National League.” It needs a sponsor’s name. Each team needs to work together, local television, and attract more spectators.

Q.How would describe what's happening in Sweden?
A. Sweden is in a rebuilding mode. Sweden has been about ( national team players) Maria Rooth and Erika Holst. They deserve the attention. They have been unbelievable as people and playing hockey but now we have to take care of new, young players. Give them a good life in hockey. Sweden has been going up and then we hit a plateau… now we need quality competition and care to keep the girls in the game.

Q. Is there money for development?
A. Right now there is lots of questions. There are three legs to consider. 1. Make the national league better; 2. deal with the money situation; see what we have in budget; separate national team from club teams. And lastly recruit coaches into women’s hockey.

Q.Is there a coaching pool?
A. No we have to open up the door on our camps and invite people to look at it and educate themselves. Women’s hockey players probably want to do other things so we should encourage these players to stay.

Q. What is the fitness level of these young players?
Do you notice a difference from last year?
A. Yes, very much so, when they compete against this side of the world (North America). They know what it takes. But we have to be careful about anorexia; it is a long education. They don’t have to be best in world at 18 years old. I lost a goalie because she put too much pressure on herself; she got sick, eating disorders, it is a disease. She put pressure on herself to do this run every morning and other things. You have to be careful; we are building a culture and we players to tell the other generations.

Q. How many players on this Under 18 team could move up to senior national team?
A. A lot could move up. Next year is tough. They need more fitness training. We have a couple players not on senior team nor this team so we should have something between 18 and senior. We have to keep motivation high. #4 Josefine Holmgren, on defence, she could move up. These players have to have new challenges.

Q. Sketch an ideal scenario to develop these players.
A/ If you had to say the top things for women’s hockey for Sweden, it would be: an Under 22 tournament; a 6 nations tournament. And a European championship for national teams competing in a spotlight so they get used to playing under pressure. We see the US and Canada playing so well under pressure, they give us a show. The coaches and players all talk about Olympics and catching up to the top Olympic teams. We forget our own game. We have to grow our own game. It would be good to have a gold medal game vs Finland in Europe. It takes a lot of generations to build winners. You can’t never play too many games. To be the best team in Europe, climb Mount Blanc, then Mount Everest. We have to build confidance.