About the League
Malmö RedHawks head-coach Viktor Stråhle talks about junior hockey popularity in Sweden, his impressions of Junior Club World Cup and what it’s like to be one of the youngest coaches in Swedish hockey history.
- Viktor, what brought you to hockey and how did you become a coach?
- Ever since I can remember myself, I’ve played hockey. I first stepped on the ice when I was about five years old. My first serious team was Växjö Lakers. The team from Växjö is one of the best in Sweden. I signed my first professional contract when I was 18 with Rögle from Swedish Elitserien and the very next day I got a very serious back injury. After that I had to forget all about my playing career and I decided to become a coach. At first I was working with the U18 team and this is going to be my second year as the head-coach of Malmö RedHawks.
- So you became a coach at 19?
- Yes, I was the youngest coach in the history of Swedish Division 1 and the youngest coach in the history of Swedish SuperElit.
- How difficult was it to become a coach at that age?
- It came to me naturally and not only because I got badly injured. I didn’t want to stop because I love hockey very much. It’s a great game so it was an easy decision for me. It wasn’t easy to switch to coaching work because I had a lot to learn and a lot to sacrifice. But it was worth it, I enjoy working with young guys very much and winning with them. The joy of success and hockey adrenalin are still there. It’s just that these days I get all of it on the bench as the head-coach.
- What brand of hockey do you preach to your team?
- In modern hockey it’s very important to know how to play without the puck. When our team doesn’t have the puck, we try to win it back as soon as possible. We play aggressively on defense because we want to make that transition from defense to offense as quickly as possible. As for creativity, I want my players to be creative and they would understand what they need to do in the upcoming moment before they get there. We give our players a lot of guidelines on what to do without the puck because you can’t always be creative. My players are active in the offensive end, creative and, what is also very important, the have fun.
- Malmö played three games against MHL teams. Did you like what you saw in those games?
- Yes, I liked all three teams. The biggest difference is that a lot of the players are really tall. I think your teams play a more slow-paced hockey, use the boards a lot, create obstacles for their opponents, while we try to spend more time with the puck and make more passes. At first our defensemen were really confused and didn’t know what to do. We had to make adjustments as early as right after the first period of play against Reaktor, because the guys were confused and didn’t understand how they needed to play. After that we got used to that brand of hockey and did well in the remaining time of the game against Reaktor. A lot of things were new to us. Especially the opening ceremony, official part, flags and so many fans. Maybe this is why in the next game against HK Riga the guys didn’t look like themselves, they were tired and deservedly lost. In the quarterfinal game Loko beat us in everything, even though we could have won that game.
- What does participating in Junior Club World Cup mean to your team and you personally?
- It’s a great experience for us. International game with this level of organization and media interest – my players are not used to that, but it is a priceless experience, which will definitely help them in their professional careers.
- Five-six games in nine days – how difficult is it?
- I don’t think it’s very difficult. Besides we have a similar schedule in Sweden. Sometimes we play for three days in a row. For example, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On top of that the Friday game can start at 7pm, while Saturday and Sunday games start at 1pm. We’re used to this and we can’t use the schedule as an excuse for our losses because that’s the kind of work rhythm we always have.
- Hockey has always been incredibly popular in Sweden. Can you say the same about the local junior league and Malmö in particular?
- You’re right, junior hockey is also very popular but it’s not presented as something grand. Along with the fans there are always a lot of scouts and agents from NHL and KHL at the games, who look for young talented players. At the same time the Swedes prefer to watch hockey at home on television. This goes for junior league and even the professional league but to a lesser degree. Obviously, we want to see more people coming to junior team games. I think our league can do and make a big step forward in that regard. Besides, a lot depends on the stage of the season. Playoff games draw much bigger crowds.