Sweden’s Coaching Closing the Gap
Last week, I was approached by Uffe Bodin, a writer for HockeySverige.se, to provide some insight for an article regarding the rising talent of Swedish goaltenders. It was a very cool opportunity for me to take a closer look at the tremendous progress Sweden has made over the last decade, as more and more goalie prospects are crossing the pond to stop pucks in a successful manner.
Over the past two decades, the doors for Swedish goalies to play in the NHL were unlocked when Tommy Salo played for the Islanders and Oilers. But they were blown wide open when Henrik Lundqvist arrived on the scene for the Rangers. Since then, there have been numerous Swedish prospects rising up the ranks and impressing pro scouts all over North America.
In 2010, we had the likes of Jonas Gustavsson, Henrik Karlsson, Jhonas Enroth, Eddie Lack, Robin Lehner, Anders Lindback and of course Jacob Markstrom stating their case to become legitimate long-term NHL goaltenders. And the momentum gained through these terrific netminders will only open the doors for the likes of potential future Swedish stars like Viktor Fasth, Magnus Hellberg, Anders Nilsson and Mark Owuya.
To see Bodin’s article on the rise of Swedish goaltending talent on this side of the pond, click right here or the HockeySverige.se logo below, then use either Google or Bing to translate the article. You’ll find that I hold Sweden’s quality goalie coaching in very high regards, including the likes of Erik Granqvist, Pekka Alcen and so many others.
Some of the insight I provided for Bodin did not make it into the article, most likely due to the sheer length of my answers. So I have posted two of Bodin’s questions and my answers below, as they provide good insight on why I feel the gap is closing between North American and Swedish goaltenders.
At the end of the day, I feel the surge in Swedish goalie talent comes down to the intense coaching that many of these prospects receive during their younger years. And with the help of some high-level hockey in the Elitserien, the transition from Sweden to North America is not as difficult as it used to be.
HS: Do you see any patterns among Swedish goalies today that weren’t visible a few years ago?
JG: In my opinion, Swedish goalies are getting much better instruction and training with their goalie coaches than what I saw a few years ago. The first example I think of is Erik Granqvist. Although I’m based in Colorado, I still hear so many good things about his work with goalies like Jonas Gustavsson, Henrik Karlsson, Cristopher Nihlstorp and now Alex Salak. Farjestad BK is run like an NHL organization, so the type of training those goalies are getting with Granqvist is a perfect boost to their development. He also acts as a perfect bridge for them to transition to playing at a high level in North America.
When I communicate with Granqvist, I can tell he is very dedicated to improving Farjestad’s goalies and is a terrific mentor, guide and friend. Coaches like him know that a goalie’s development is maximized when the training is catered specifically to what makes the individual goalie most successful.
So if there was a pattern emerging with Swedish goaltenders over the past 2-3 years, I would say it starts and ends with the consistent, customized and highly-specialized coaching these goalies get on a year-round basis.
I also see a stronger network of coaches and coaching styles being shared between North America and Sweden. What makes goaltenders so successful today is how they all play a style that is based around their individual strengths. Goalie coaches all over the world are quickly learning that they must adapt and customize their teachings to fit the mold of the goalie. Even though there are many different “types” of butterfly styles (hybrid, flybrid, pro-fly, half-butterfly, etc), all of these styles basically teach the same thing. The position is becoming more standardized than ever before, so what is being coached in North America is essentially the same as what is being coached in Sweden and around the globe.
As this coaching “network” in Sweden and North America continues to grow, the coaches interact and learn things from each other on a more consistent basis. As a result, it has a direct influence on the goalies. For example, a Swedish coach will attend a camp in Canada for a week over the summer. He will learn one or two techniques that he knows will work well for his goalies back in Sweden. He returns home and implements some of those techniques in training camp, and all of a sudden his goalies have a mixture of styles coming together to improve the goalie’s overall game.
This is happening all over the world, all the time, with hundreds of goalie coaches. When you tie in social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and more goalie camps and clinics, the network of goaltending is getting stronger and more consistent with their teachings and techniques.
As time goes on, more networking and “mixing” between Swedish and North American styles is taking place. At the end of the day, the position is now a pure “personalized” hybrid. Every single goalie is different, so they all play a style that works best for them.
HS: Could you say that there’s a distinguished style that you can see among Swedish goalies nowadays? If so, how would you describe it?
JG: Since no two goalies are the same, it is hard to say all Swedish goalies have a distinguished style. But if I had to generalize, I would say Swedish goalies usually play deeper in their crease and with a slightly wider stance. I look at a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist and what makes him successful, and I see many other goalies in Sweden with a similar mold. Lundqvist has mastered the skill of playing deep in the net. He relies on his reflexes to make tough reaction saves and has a really wide stance so that his knees are closer to the ice. This allows him to seal his pads to the ice faster than a goalie that stands more upright.
When a goalie plays deeper in the crease, they are moving less. Lundqvist is known as being a very positionally sound goalie, and part of that is because he is not forced to move as much as a goalie that plays at the top (or above) his crease.
I watched Viktor Fasth during the World Championships and liked how he also plays a bit deeper in his crease and with a wide stance. Even though he is not very tall, he still covers the top corners extremely well because he has a straight back and builds a very solid wall with his wide butterfly. At the same time, he has good active hands and can make the reflex save if needed. He has a good combination of positioning and reflexes and combined with his age, he would make a very good NHL goalie.
Overall, this is how I would describe today’s “Swedish butterfly” goalie. They play a little deeper so that they move less, and this allows them to stay in better position. Again, I must be clear that every goalie in Sweden is different, so it ultimately comes down to the style that works best for them. And as I discussed above, what makes Swedish goalies so successful right now is that they are being taught a totally customized style that works best for their body, their size and their strengths.