After watching Finland and Sweden beat the USA and Canada in this year’s World Junior Championships and moving on to play each other in the finals, It was apparent that their skill level was so much higher than the other teams. Finland then beat Sweden in an exciting final game to win the gold medal while Sweden took home the silver medal. Canada did not earn a medal and USA never even made the medal round. In the last five years, Sweden and Finland have earned more medals than the USA and Canada in International competition. What makes this so amazing is the number of players and lack of resources that these Scandinavian countries have in comparison to the USA and Canada. Sweden has a small number of people who actually play hockey in their approximately 500 rinks (many of them outdoors). Finland has a little over 66,000 people who play hockey in their approximately 300 rinks. Compare this to the United States who have over 510,000 hockey players with about 2,000 rinks and Canada has over 625,000 players and about 8,000 rinks. When you look at these numbers and the success that Sweden and Finland have in international competition, and when you take into account the stars in the NHL that are from these countries, I think it may be time to take a long look to see what they are doing differently/better than we are.
Every time that I am in Europe, I always take the time to watch other teams’ practices and take notes. I was fortunate enough to spend time in the Czech Republic back in the day when many other countries would not put their ice in until right before the start of the season. Many teams from various countries would travel to the Czech Republic for training camps since many areas would put their ice in early and the ice fees were much more feasible than in other countries. Right after my practices I would sit in the stands all day and take notes on the other teams’ practices. I have also watched Sweden and Finland teams practice at various international tournaments. When these teams take the ice before practice you do not hear a puck hitting the boards or the glass. They do not shoot senselessly at an open net or off the glass like the North American players always do. Instead, the only thing you hear is the puck touching the player’s sticks. Quick stick handling moves and partner passing, no senseless shooting on an open net. The Swedes and the Fins have always been big proponents of small area games and battles with an emphasis on puck control. The Swedes were also the first to put “cycling’ into their game. The Fins are well known to be the best breakaway/shootout scorers in the world. Both of these countries put more emphasis on body positioning over body checking and they also support the puck better than most countries do, especially providing speed behind the puck. When you look at the Scandinavians’ demographics and resources compared to other countries, it is obvious they have some great teaching methods.They have the medals and the success to back it up!. It is our responsibility to our youth players to instill some of these same teaching methods into our programs.