International Ice Hockey Federation

Coast to coast

Coast to coast

Sweden's big two cities step up efforts

Published 28.10.2014 11:25 GMT+1 | Author Henrik Manninen
Coast to coast
New recruit and two-time Olympian Valentina Lizana Wallner plays a key role as Djurgarden Stockholm's women's team aims for the top. Photo: Johan Sahlen
Different history, but sharing the same goal. New teams from Stockholm and Gothenburg hope to help re-vamp the women's game from top to bottom.

The Stockholm summer was still in full bloom when an exhibition game gave way to scenes reminiscent of a decisive play-off encounter. A rushing crop of Djurgarden players stormed their goalie and hero of the day, Valentina Lizana Wallner, to celebrate a historical 3-2 win over their local rivals AIK at the end of August. Plenty has been at stake since 1891 when these two multi-sports clubs first locked horns against each other; a rivalry which as of this season entered the realm of women's hockey.

With Sweden hosting the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Malmo from 28th March to 4th April, the increased exposure offers an excellent opportunity to make strides in raising the level of the development. While head coach Leif Boork's team will be being eager to put an end to a medal drought dating back to the bronze medals won in 2007, attracting and holding on to the next generation of players hooked to the game will be the long-term challenge.

With big catchment areas and unfulfilled potential, Sweden's two biggest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg, show a clear sign of intent. With a newly started team from each city playing in the Swedish second tier, Division 1, the arrival on the scene of Djurgarden Stockholm and Goteborg Hockey Club might have different historical connotations in the Swedish game, but are united in their lofty aspirations.

"Our girls should not be retiring when they are 23-24 but instead be given a chance to reach a level as high as possible," said Nils Ekman, sporting director at Djurgarden's women section. "At the same time we also want to develop a pyramid so girls wanting to play hockey can find a suitable age group to close the gaps we now have up to senior level."

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Ekman, a Djurgarden fan-favourite since his days as a player for the club during an esteemed career which also took him to both the NHL and the KHL, stepped into his current role last spring following the announcement that newly relegated and three-time Swedish champions Segeltorp would now become Djurgarden on a senior level.

An organisation housing Sweden's record champions for men, Djurgarden entering women's hockey clearly follows a set trend. Currently five out of the eight teams – AIK Stockholm, Brynas Gavle, Leksand, Linkoping and MODO Ornskoldsvik - have teams in Sweden's top division for women, Riksserien, while also enjoying an illustrious history, past or present, at the top-level of the men's game.

And more is expected to come. HV71 Jonkoping will be eager to bounce back to the women's top flight following last year's relegation, while another exciting addition to the women's game is Farjestad, with the team from Karlstad following in the footsteps of Djurgarden and Gothenburg after taking over the organization of another club, Skare. Big guns with a strong tradition in the Swedish men's game turning their attention to women's hockey brings along certain benefits according to Ekman.

"Hopefully we will be able to build up an organisation not being dependent on a few non-profit workers and engaging parents sacrificing an enormous amount of time, which can put an entire organisation at risk if someone steps down. With the big clubs stepping in something more long-lasting can be built," said Ekman.

Being part of a more professional organisation with financial clout, Djurgarden has not been resting on its laurels while making up for lost time. Clearly meaning business from the outset they announced 24-year-old Stockholm-born netminder Lizana Wallner as their marquee signing. The one-time Swedish champion with MODO and two-time Olympian is grateful for Djurgarden's interest, which also kept her in the game.

"Following the Olympics in Sochi I had decided to retire but when this offer came along I jumped at the chance," she said of her new club, which helped her find employment in Stockholm while also offering great support both on and off the ice. "If you have any problems the board will do all they can to help you out, which spurs you on as you can focus on your hockey."

With Djurgarden making strides on the east coast with a well-oiled organization offering work and accommodation to its players, similar building blocks are also being put down in Sweden's second city. Women's football and handball hold proud traditions in Gothenburg, but now increased attempts are made in trying to woo talents over to ice hockey with the formation of a women's hockey team, Goteborg Hockey Club.

Five women teams in the region had been cut to just two which made it high time to try and turn the tide according to Monica Corell, one of the founders and also chairwoman of the newly started club. "A new start was required to make the sport more visible again in order to buck the trend. Gothenburg is Sweden's second-largest city, so it did not feel right that talented girls had to leave the city to continue pursuing their hockey careers."

Taking over the activities from Hisingen Hockey, a lioness with sharpened teeth was revealed as the new logotype adorning the chests of the black, white and orange Goteborg jerseys introduced to mark the turn of a page. But while Djurgarden's well-established name opened doors, Goteborg instead got help from a World Champion and a local boy come good. In April 2014, Fredrik Pettersson, a former Frolunda star currently plying his trade in Lugano, officially announced to join the cause supporting the newly started team with his Gothenburg-based construction company.

"Since Fredrik's support was made official things have exploded and rolled on in a furious pace," said Corell about the exposure surrounding the team where also IIHF Centennial All-Star Borje Salming joined up as their equipment supplier. "Finances are a big challenge for us, especially since we have grown so quickly and immediately got a place next to the two other newly started teams, Djurgarden and Farjestad, but we are a fully non-profit organization without either specific marketing or financing department."

Despite the challenges the newly-started club is facing, major strides have been made in a short span of time. The club has today a hockey school, a senior team playing in Division 1 and another team for up-and-coming players competing in Division 2. Plans are also underway to establish junior teams for girls of different ages.

According to Corell a good dialogue with both the local municipality and the big gun in the city, SHL team Frolunda Gothenburg, has been beneficiary with some of the club's league fixtures to be played inside the 7,527 capacity Frolundaborg for added exposure.

"We hope that it will lead to more eyes opening up for women's hockey and more people at our matches," she said. "With bigger crowds and visibility we are hoping that more sponsors would be interested in working with us and contribute to the development of women's hockey, and with greater visibility more girls hopefully want to pick up the game."

As an attempt to bolster competitiveness and continue spreading the game throughout the country, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association has announced an expansion of Riksserien from eight to ten teams for next season.

The road up to those lofty heights might just have begun for Goteborg and Djurgarden. While Goteborg signed up three transatlantic players to bolster their locally flavoured roster are aiming for promotion, Djurgarden's star-studded team including experienced national team players of past and present such as Tina Enstrom, Danijela Rundqvist, Alexandra Palm and Lizana Wallner looks like being a shoo-in for Riksserien next year and in earnest be able to take up the challenge with fierce local rivals AIK. For Ekman however, the plans are more far-reaching than that.

"The point for us at Djurgarden is not only to clinch promotion, win a Swedish championship and then tap each other on our backs. We want to be role models and inspire a lot of young girls who want to play hockey to find a team for their own age. Then we will dominate Swedish hockey. Until everyone else starts doing the same," said Ekman.


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