A Brit On Thin Ice
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A Brit On Thin Ice

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JUNIOR ATHLETICS: Lukas Zarders (HIF)

In any normal year the hockey season would have given away to football in Sweden by now and with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics planned for the end of the summer, track and field athletics would again be centre stage.

But, as we all know, the Coronavirus has put a stop to all sport across the globe.

And for Afro-American-Swede, Lukas Zarders it is not just his sports' career that is on hold – but also his schooling, as the 17-year-old is based in Cleveland, Ohio where they’ve been on lockdown since the end of March.

Born in the USA with an American father and a Swedish mother, Zarders is looking to do the reverse journey of Sweden’s best hockey players who want to go to the US to develop their careers. Instead, the 17-year-old is looking at a move to Sweden to go to university. He is already registered with Hammarby IF in Stockholm following literally in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Swedish long jump record holder, Michel Tornéus (pictured).

Tornéus too had a choice to make when thinking about which country to compete for with a father from Congo and his mother a Finnish-Swede. But for Zarders the natural choice is Sweden, “there aren’t too many people from the US that have this opportunity. I love Sweden and it would be an honour to represent my ancestors’ country”, he says.

Outside of school and church activities his time is taken up by sport – anything from track and field, soccer, basketball and even American football. But when you hear that one of his other heroes is 9 times Olympics gold medalist Carl Lewis, it becomes clear that long-jump is his favoured discipline.

“Not just Tornéus and Lewis, but basketball players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are my sporting heroes. They’ve all shown me the importance of mindset when you are achieving your goals”, the American-Swede says.

And despite his age he is already making some great inroads to following his heroes to sporting stardom, “At the USA Junior Olympics in North Carolina last summer, I placed 9th out of about 75 people. Earlier in the year at a conference track meet I jumped 22’5” (6.85 m) and I was in second place. I had one more jump and I fouled a 23’2” (7.06 m). This moment showed me my potential and gave me more confidence. I achieved my Personal Best and everything kind of clicked that day and my jump felt solid. Even though it was a decent jump, I feel like I can achieve much better things in the future”, he reflects.

Obviously, things are uncertain for the rest of 2020, but the young Zarders wants to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and compete in a wide variety of events in the States over the summer, including 4x1, 4x2 and 4x4 as well as the long jump. And in the latter discipline he wants to improve on last year’s ninth and go top 5 in the US.

In regard to Sweden, he has got his eyes on the Junior National Championships due to take place in Linköping on August 21-23, “I can potentially win,” he says, not unrealistically. If Zarders had jumped 6.85 m at the Swedish Junior National Championships in Gothenburg in 2019 he would have won Silver in his P17 category. If his final jump had been legal, he would have gained Gold.

He may only be 17 yrs, but with his school days reaching their natural conclusion, he’s already making plans for the future, “Over the next five years I want to invest in a track club in Sweden and compete for the national team. My biggest goal is to represent Sweden at the 2024 Olympics”, he says with a confident smile.

Lukas Zarders is probably a name few Swedes have heard of at the moment ,but the young talent is showing considerable promise that could change all that.

With a mix of hard work, focus and Providence, you might find that Zarders is a name that joins that elite list of Swedes who have jumped over 8 metres - Mattias Sunneborn, Peter Häggström, Michel Tornéus, Andreas Otterling and Thobias Nilsson Montler - and maybe a few medals too.

So, look out for his name at a meet near you in the years to come.

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SDHL: Concussion - the headache that won’t go away

Does it get more serious that concussion?

Fans and players alike accept and enjoy that hockey is a full-blooded contact sport. And even in Sweden where Fighting is almost non-existent where everyone knows that even big, legal hits can have serious consequences.

Career and season-ending concussion in the SHL

Thomas Larkin’s blindside hit on former Boston BruinsDaniel Paille in a CHL match on 7 November 2017 ended the Canadian Olympian’s career, Almen Bibic has not returned to the ice since a hit from Ryan Lasch, one of the smallest player’s in the SHL on 3 November 2018. In November 2019 Rögle BK had four players on the injury list due to concussion - Éric Gélinas, Kodie Curran and Dennis Everberg but the worst affected is Nick Sörensen has not played since his injury on 29 November.

Daniel Paille

Daniel Paille's last moments as a professional ice hockey player

Career and season ending concussion in the SDHL

And in women’s hockey the story is just the same, despite the fact that Checking is not allowed in the same way as the men’s game.

MODO Hockey’s Canadian talent, Breanne Wilson-Bennett left the ice in an ambulance and has not played since being hit by Louise Norberg Tegelin on 18 November 2018. And one of the SDHL most talented imports, Canadian Olympian, Jennifer Wakefield, played only nine matches for Brynäs IF in 2018/9 season have twice received concussion.

According to Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, there were 52 recorded concussion in the last two years in the SDHL. Of the 25 in the season that has just gone, two of those were Linköping HC players, Pernilla Winberg and Vilma Tanskanen. Whilst we remember the dramatic hits like Paille or Wilson-Bennett, in both my interviewees cases, it was relatively minor incidents which finished off their season before it had really begun. That’s because one of the issues with concussion is the cumulative effect of a career of receiving heavy blows to the head.

Jennifer Wakefield

One of Jennifer Wakefield's few matches in Brynäs colours

What does concussion feel like?

But we start from the beginning – what does it actually feel like to get concussion?

Both Winberg and Tanskanen have experienced multiple concussions in their career and both reflect that whilst the first incident was one of the biggest hits, it was also the quickest one they recovered from.

Winberg, “My first concussion was severe, I was only 15 and playing for the national team. I saw double for a while but I recovered from it pretty quick”, she says, “The others were much lighter, I saw a bit blurry and had a headache. We thought it might be a problem with my neck,” she explains.

For the Finnish player it was similar, “I was back on the ice training after a couple of weeks,” after she received her first concussion in Finland before she moved to the NCAA in the autumn of 2015.

Nick Sörensen

Rögle's Nick Sörensen lies facedown on the ice in his final match of the 2019/20 season

Lack of knowledge inside hockey

“The problem was back then, we didn’t know anything about concussion, it just wasn’t talked about,” says Tanskanen, “I didn’t even know that I had had it until afterwards”.

So, in both cases the players were in a situation that neither they, nor the people around them, really knew how to deal with. This partly reflects the amateur-professional limbo that women’s hockey is still in. Winberg maybe be one of the best Swedish players in the country, but she does it all in her spare time. Her full-time employment is with local charity, Idrott Utan Gränser, (ENG: “Sport without Borders”), who help marginalised kids get involved in sport.

As they are largely amateurs there is no insurance for the women’s teams, unlike in the men’s game, who receive a percentage of their regular income even if they sit out injured.

“We do everything ourselves,” said Winberg to Swedish national newspaper Aftonbladet, “we go and pay the fees in the medical clinic just like every other normal person”.

“We did get some help from the men’s team’s doctor at Linköping,” the two players say, “but really there’s no structured follow up plan at all. But we know if different clubs they have dealt with the issue differently”.

Something confirmed by Aftonbladet’s reportage. The paper report points out that 35 of the 100 players interviewed in their survey have been diagnosed with concussion, but that only 15 of them received that diagnosis within their own hockey club, less than half of all cases.

It points to a dangerous gap in knowledge and resources with the hockey industry itself that is putting players’ careers and, more importantly, their long-term health, at risk. And we know for certain that players will get concussion in the 2020/21 season.

Anna Borgqvist

HV71's Anna Borgqvist leaves the ice with possible concussion after being hit by Jennifer Wakefield (DIF). The Canadian was suspended for 20 days after the match.

Life with concussion

To look at Winberg and Tanskanen, you would not know they had sustained life-changing injuries that have kept them off the ice for the majority of the season. They do not have crutches or a plaster cast, or wear a big badge that says, “I am concussed”.

So, I ask them to explain what it feels like.

“It is hard to explain,” says the Swede, “It is like a small headache that never goes away. You rest and then you try to do something like ride a bike, and it gets worse, especially at night”.

“When it happened, I literally couldn’t tell you which way we were shooting, or what the score was, or anything,” says the Finn, “you get headaches, lights hurt your eyes and I couldn’t eat anything. And then you think you’re getting better so you go for a bike ride but I just felt nauseous” she admits.

Both agree that it is a serious hinder to their social life, in fact, to doing anything, “you follow the rules and stay at home,” says Winberg, “but you can’t concentrate on watching TV and training just makes it worse”.

“I am normally social and super active, but especially at the start if I went to the rink or spent time with friends I would be exhausted and just end up with headaches or migraines. There's not really much you can do,” reveals the Finn.

She is studying Sports Psychology but completing the course has been an impossibility. Finding some of her notes she tells that me that concussion is a physical, mental and emotional challenge, “plus your sleep is a mess,” she says honestly.

It is hard to believe that these two normal people have effectively been in mental and physical isolation for six months since the injury – unable to live a normal life, all for the sake of hockey, the sport they love and want to excel in.

Pernilla Winberg på stan

Pernilla Winberg in her home town of Limhamn where she returned to recover from concussion

The Federation and SDHL must take action

Aftonbladet spoke the SDHLs Commercial Manager, Angelica Lindeberg who said, “in the best of all possible worlds we are going to do something about this before the start of next season”.

It seems clear that more work needs to be done to protect players. Hockey is a physical contact sport and therefore it is essential that the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation and SDHL take strong directive action to protect players as much as possible. Developing a post-concussion protocol and ensuring players receive a thoroughgoing quality medical assessment paid for by the clubs are the least they should be doing. Costs for the clubs who are linked with an SHL team, such as Linköping, will be minimal for this service. For others, such as Göteborg HC, links with such clubs like Frölunda Indians can easily be forged.

Concussion is a headache that is not going to go away for women's hockey. So for issues of both player safety and gender equality the issue must be addressed before the 2020/21 season starts. It is all part and parcel of raising the SDHL from its quasi-amateur status to being best professional women’s league in Europe. The players, like Winberg and Tanskanen, are willing to play their part – now they need the industry to step up and be active on D and box-out threats, like concussion, as it encroaches on the blue paint and seeks to take out players. In a year's time we know that a handful of women players will have played their last ever season in the SDHL because of concussion. The question still remains as to whether those women will have received the best possible care not.

References

Aftonbladet article (in Swedish):

https://www.aftonbladet.se/story/hjarnskakningarna-i-sdhl

Aftonbladet video including interview with Pernilla Winberg (in Swedish):

https://www.aftonbladet.se/tv/a/307718/sa-stort-ar-hjarnskakningsproblemet-i-sdhl

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SDHL: LINKÖPING INTERVIEW- Pernilla Winberg & Vilma Tanskanen

For Linköping HC the 2019/ 20 was a season to forget. The club that had finished second for the last two years behind Luleå HF and won in 2013/14 and 2014/15, faced the humiliating situation of nearly being in the relegation playoff. In fact, they were only saved from the relegation zone in only the third-from-last-game of the season. It was the worst finish in the club’s history and the only the second time they have not been in the last four in the playoffs.

With nearly a month now gone since the season was abruptly stopped due to Coronavirus, I sit down with two of Linköping’s team and we discuss their individual careers as well as the disappointing year for the Östergötland club.

Pernilla Winberg – injuries hit LHC hard

31-year-old, Pernilla Winberg (above) will need no introduction to those who have followed Swedish women’s hockey. For example, in the last two years she has been in the top 3 of highest scoring Swedes in the SDHL.

Winberg is the only remaining active player from Sweden’s 2006 Olympic silver medal winning team. Just 16 year’s old at the time, this is still her top moment in her career, when she scored in the semi-final penalty shootout against the USA. In net was 19-year-old, and later Linköping teammate, Kim Martin Hasson during a memorable European victory over the dominant North American women’s teams.

Players come and players go

“Linköping was a very different kind of team this year,” the Swedish forward says about the lineup for the season that has just finished, “we lost some of our key players from 2018/9. Whilst this was a very hard-working team, injuries meant that all the pieces were not in place all of the time. Overall, it was too much “up and down” across the whole season.”

It is true that the team lost all of its top five scorers, apart from Winberg herself, as import players Kennedy Marchment, Sidney Morin, Lara Stalder and Nicoline Söndergaard Jensen left for new clubs.

But in came a raft of new players - there was Canadian Savannah Newton from Brynäs IF and Swede Isobel Palm who traded with Marchment and Morin from HV71. From North America there was also touted American sisters Tori and Zoe Hickel from Calgary Inferno and new from the NCAA, Finnish international, Vilma Tanskanen (below).

A long injury list

But injuries have hit Linköping hard – the first four named players have missed 36 matches in a 36-match season. And that is not accounting for the rest of the team’s injuries, including captain and Norwegian international, Ingrid Morset, who missed seven matches. In fact, only seven of the lineup played the full season and only 11 players played more than 30 matches, putting some numbers behind Winberg’s assessment.

And there’s no doubt that the Swedish Olympian herself was deeply missed in terms of experience and points production due to being side-lined by concussion after just seven games. Not only that but my second interviewee, Tanskanen, only played eight matches due to concussion and the pair have been signed off sick all season.

Vilma Tanskanen Finland

Vilma Tanskanen – “it was a tough year”

24-year-old, Vilma Tanskanen came to Linköping after four seasons in the NCAA including two years with North Dakota until they closed their women’s hockey program. A defense-minded forward, she is a specialist on the penalty kill but developed her points scoring ability whilst in her final two years in the league with Mercyhurst University. There she was part of the team that won three-day College Hockey America tournament and was assistant captain for the team in her graduate year.

“Playing for the national team is a great honour,” says the player who picked up bronze in 2014/5 World Championship for Finland. “But it was very special winning with my college team, girls who you have worked with throughout the year,” she says with triumph in her eyes. But when it comes to the season here in Sweden, she keeps it short, “It was a tough year, full stop.”

The NCAA and the SDHL

Winberg and Tanskanen do not just have in common that concussion kept them off the ice in 2019/20, they have also both played in the NCAA and SDHL. I ask them about the difference between the two leagues.

“The NCAA definitely has faster hockey; it’s good quality with great players on every shift. Of course, you’ve got the smaller ice there too…” says Tanskanen.

“I agree,” says Winberg, “it’s definitely faster. Here it is much tougher game here, you’ve got Europe’s best players in the SDHL.”

“You have a much bigger variation in players in Sweden,” adds the Finn, “from the very experienced to young starters on the ice at the same time, whereas it is more even across the team in the States,” she reflects.

Both players played a substantially smaller role in Linköping’s season than they were hoping to. And when we close the interview no-one knows what the 2020/21 season will hold due to concussion – the topic we will pick up in the second half of this interview - clic on following link: SDHL: Concussion - the headache that won’t go away

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SHL and SDHL: Coronavirus chaos continues in Swedish and world hockey

The Coronavirus looks set to claim another victim- the postseason in men’s and women’s hockey here in Sweden.

The SHL

In the SHL the regular season just about survived with the last matches of the season being played in empty arenas Thursday.

Last year’s two top teams in the regular season were again first and second. But this time instead of Färjestad BK winning on goal difference, it is Luleå HF who won the regular season by a convincing 14 points.

The majority of European leagues have cancelled third playoffs and allowed the top of the table team at the end of the playable season to be declared as champions without further matches. That includes Sweden’s neighbours, Norway and Finland as well as continental Germany, Austria and Poland.

Whilst initially just suspending the playoffs, a request has now been made to cancel the playoffs entirely with a decision being expected on Sunday. There seems no obvious reason for the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation to not follow other countries and cancel the postseason meaning Luleå could be declared champions today.

The SDHL

The same scenario faces the women’s league, the SDHL, even though the quarterfinals and semis have already taken place as the league is smaller than the SHL. One of the best of five final matches did get played on Wednesday Luleå / MSSK lost at home to HV71, 2-3. Luleå are the reigning championship but it is HV71 (pictured) who won the regular season and are poised to become 2019/20 champions.

Initially the SDHL planned to shorten the final to a best of three series due to be completed in Jönköping this weekend.

However, sickness to players and the increased threat of the virus means the women have also requested an premature end to the season. That being the case HV71 will be declared champions for the first time in their history today.


So, for the Norrbotten club the premature end to the season will at least secure one national trophy.

International women’s tournaments and Damkronorna

The Coronavirus threat does not only mean the end of the domestic season in Sweden, but also an end for the international season with both the A and B World Championships in Canada and France respectively being cancelled.

For Sweden’s women’s team, Damkronorna, this has particularly tough consequences. For the first time ever in 2019/20 the country found itself in the embarrassing situation of being in the B category World Cup having been demoted last year. The cancellation of the competition means they will have to wait another year before they can make amends for their mistakes.

However, one person who will not be there next year is manager, Ylva Martinsen who has been sacked. She has expressed extreme disappointment at the decision but the Federation do not see any reason to renew her two contract when it expires later this year after a string of poor results. She has been replaced Ulf Lundberg who managed Södertälje until he was fired earlier this year.

But the unexpected turn of events may also mean that one of Sweden’s Assistant Captain and Brynäs IF captain, Erika Grahm may also not be present next year to help her country return to the top division. As yet undecided, the 29 year old has said the cancellation of the World Championship has made her call into question her international career and she would not be drawn on whether this also meant an end to her club career.

Men’s World Championships

Whilst the women’s World Championships is off, the men’s tournament, which is due to be held in Switzerland in May, is currently scheduled to take place. Of special interest to A Brit On Thin Ice is the meeting of Sweden and Great Britain to take pace on 23 May in Lausanne.

North American leagues

The USA has also gone into lockdown so that both the NHL and AHL have been suspended until further notice. How they might resolve who is the winner if playoffs do not take place remains unclear.

So stay on the look out as the Coronavirus continues its dramatic spread throughout the sports world, proving to be the year’s greatest game changer, even if it is it unlikely to receive an MVP.

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SDHL: INTERVIEW - Julie Zwarthoed (SDE) - We can beat Sweden

Dutch international forward, Julie Zwarthoed, has just finished her fifth season with Stockholm’s SDE Hockey in the SDHL. And for the first time the 25-year-old and her teammates have been able to participate in the playoffs rather than the qualifying matches against Division 1 rivals.

This year SDE won more games than the previous three seasons put together. And the Dutch assistant captain puts this success down to the positive team mentality that has developed over the years, “I believe SDE has a strong family feeling, a big thanks to Helene Åström our team manager, she brings everyone in with so much love and joy. We struggled a lot of seasons, but I think due to the struggle no one ever gives up. Due to this strong family bonding, I think we perform really well because we don´t give up on each other”.

Zwarthoed was again the team’s top points scorer this year with 26 points placing her in 25th on Total Points. 2019/20 saw her net 15 times, her highest goal scoring season in her career. She was just ahead of SDE and Dutch international teammate, Savine Wielenga.

“This season was great but I wouldn´t be able to score the goals without the girls that give me the passes. So, a big thank you to them,” she says modestly.

And the combination of winning games and a thriving team environment has given the 25-year-old a much-needed boost, “I had a lot of fun this season and got a lot of joy from hockey again since we were winning games. I think that having fun in hockey has helped me a lot,” she says, reflecting on the demanding work-life balance of a pro-women’s player.

With the regular season out of the way, Zwarthoed can now look forward to the World Championships in France. Last year she was part of the Netherlands team who won D1B World Championship Gold, a career highlight for the SDE forward.

Their opening match on 12 April is against none other than Sweden, who were demoted from the top tier in 2019, “The World Championships are like play offs - a lot can happen. We can beat Sweden - but that will have to be our best game ever!”, she says fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead.

However, she still thinks Sweden are favourites to return to the top, “If you see that a lot a great players play in the SDHL, it would be weird that Sweden as a country won´t be able to play in the top division”, she says reflecting on club level experience.

The 25-year-old Dutchwoman moved to Sweden partly because she could only play in men’s division in her home country. And there’s no doubt that for SDE Hockey and Julie Zwarthoed herself, it was a wise move as she and the club have grown together.

SDE finished sixth this year and were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. But if they continue to improve the way they did in 2019/20, do not be surprised if they finish in the top half of the table next year.

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SDHL: Final will be between Luleå and HV71

The top two teams in the regular season will meet in the SDHL Final which is due to start on 11 March as HV71 travel to meet Luleå/MSSK. Both teams won their respective semi final series 3-0 with a Match 3 victory this Sunday.

Luleå/MSSK v Brynäs IF

Despite Brynäs IF having the top scorer in the regular season, Lara Stalder, in their team it was Luleå who won their first two games by a single goal, 3-4 and then 3-2, with the Swiss forward picking up 3 points (1G+2A).

It was Luleå's Swiss signing who has just coming in for the playoffs, Phoebe Staenz who would shine for the reigning champions. She picked up four goals in the three games, including the go ahead goal in Game 3 at the end of the second period to give the home team a 3-2 lead. Visiting Brynäs would never recover and eventually go down 6-2 in the last game of the series.

Luleå's Finnish internationals ruthlessly destroyed Brynäs' attempt at an upset. Petra Nieminen scored 3 goals, and Michelle Karvinen assisted on all of them and scored one of her own to come away with 4 points in the final match of the series.

It marks the third year in a row that Stalder has been knocked out of the competition by Luleå, having lost the SDHL final to them two years in a row with Linköping HC before her move to Brynäs last summer.

HV71 v Djurgården IF

HV71 have been dominant all season and were in no mood for charity as they beat the Djurgården IF 10-3 in the first two matches. Michelle Lowenhielm (pictured) was one of the architects with 2G+2A combined across the two games.

In Game 3 at home the Jönköping club again made use of their post-season signing between the pipes, Canadian Shea Tiley. Not content with having the league's best keeper in Spaniard, Alba Gonzalo, the team are putting nothing to chance signing the out of work former Toronto Furies keeper for the playoffs. Tiley who has also won the NCAA championship two years in a row in a team that contained Gothenburg HC's Emma Keenan

The final game of the series was a tighter affair, as Djurgården fought for their lives coming back from 3-0 down to be only 3-2 down with 7 minutes to go in the tie when Canadian, Sarah Bujold netted for the visitors.

But it was not enough and Jönköping club cruised through to the final for the first time since 2016/7.

They are determined to not repeat the defeat from that year, and the question remains, can Luleå/ MSSK actually beat this incredibly talent HV71?

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SDHL: MODO Hockey and Gothenburg HC win qualification playoffs

MODO Hockey v Skellefteå AIK

A year ago MODO Hockey were second in the league and went out in the playoffs in the semifinals to Linköping HC. But this year they were second from bottom meaning that the only playoff hockey they were involved with was the best of three qualification series with Division 1's Skellefteå AIK.

The clubs would be considered local rivals, both based in the northern part of Sweden. But the Division 1 club were never in with a chance with the difference between the two leagues again being underlined. Skellefteå is a young team with just two import players from Slovakia. MODO on the other hand have the Czech national goalkeeper, Klara Peslarova, French team captain and former Toronto Furies player, Marion Allemoz (pictured) and well as Swedish internationals, Olivia Carlsson and Mina Waxin on their squad.

And it was assistant captain Allemoz that opened up the scoring for MODO in the first away match in Skellefteå on Wednesday. Peslarova gained a shutout and Waxin finished off their rivals in a 0-4 victory.

In the second game in Örnsköldsvik, Allemoz again opened the scoring for MODO. The visitors were taken apart in a second period, which the home team won 4-0 and wound up taking the game 7-0 and with that the series.

That means MODO Hockey will again being playing in the top flight, the SDHL, in 2020/21.

The team's top scorer in the regular season, Allemoz, finished with 4 points (1G+1A in both matches), the same score as international teammate, Lore Baudrit (1G+3A). But it was American import Gracen Hirshey who topped the team in this series with 5 points (3G+2A).

The team has struggled this year without top players, Michela Cava (now at Brynäs IF) and Kaitlyn Tougas (HV71) and will need to bring in a number of stronger signings to avoid being in the bottom half of the table next year too.


Gothenburg HC v Malmö Redhawks

This is the third year in a row Gothenburg HC have been involved in the SDHL qualification matches. However, despite that experience they decided to take the long route, needing all three games to defeat the spirited opposition in the form of Malmö Redhawks, whose team reflects the city's closeness to Denmark. They have four Danish internationals, including the country's netminder, Lisa Sellberg Jensen, who were in the team who won the Division 1A World Championships last year, replacing Sweden in the top division of Swedish women's hockey for 2020.

Nearly 500 people turned out to see the Redhawks at home on Wednesday. But at just 3:26 in the first period they saw their team go behind 0-1 to a goal by Gothenburg's 17 year old Swede, Elin Svensson. But a goal by Malmö's top scorer, and Danish international, Marlene Frandsen brought the scores level, until Svensson struck again with 12:12 left in the third to seal an 1-2 away win for Gothenburg.

That gave the SDHL team two home matches to beat the team from Skåne. But if anyone thought that Malmö would just lie down, they were sorely mistaken. When Frandsen scored again at the beginning of the third period during Saturday's match in Gothenburg, it was the third goal unanswered goal in a row from the visitors as they took a commanding 1-3 lead. When former Danish international, Julie Jensen, netted the empty net goal, it sealed a famous 2-4 victory for Malmö and set up a winner-takes-all decider in Gothenburg on Sunday.

With tension in the air, Gothenburg played most of the first 8 minutes of the match with someone in the box, including a bust up between the home team's Canadian defender, Celine Tardif and the visitors' Swedish forward, Amanda Andersson, which saw them both serve a 2 minute minor for Roughing.

However, it was the 17 year old Svensson who was first to find the net again and with that the Gothenburg team began to take over the game. It was two North American defenders on the team who found the back of the net - first Canadian import, Samantha Fieseler and then American/ Canadian Emma Keenan who stretch the lead to 3-0 for the home team with 12:37 to go in the final period. That, plus a later goal from another 17 year Sweden on the west coast team, Hanna Thuvik, and the result was clear.

Gothenburg HC win the series 2-1 and remain in the top division with MODO Hockey for the 2020/21 season.

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SDHL: INTERVIEW - Emma Keenan (GHC) - we need to play our best hockey

Emma Keenan is one of a series of new import players who has joined the SDHL in the 2019/20 season after graduating from the NCAA.

Now 22 years old, the defender has an amazing time at Clarkson University, winning back to back championships in the fiercely competitive college league in a team which included Canadian forward, Amanda Titus who was at SDE Hockey last year.

“It was an unbelievable experience. There’s no better feeling than winning alongside your teammates after all the hard work we put in”, she says.

But she also puts the victories down to buying into the team plan, “our focus was on defence first hockey. We knew good offence could come if we always played defensively minded. Everyone bought into that style of hockey as well as the process and we were able to find success,” she explains.

As college came to an end, Keenan felt that opportunities for professional hockey in North America were limited, so she looked over the Atlantic to continue her career, as well as widening her life experience.

“I’m extremely grateful that hockey gave me the chance to live in Sweden and Europe. There’s a lot of talented players in the SDHL and I was excited for the opportunity to keep developing my game”.

She came to Gothenburg HC fully aware of the challenges, “the club is relatively new, I was excited to contribute to the developing program as much as I could. And I also got to play with my former high school teammate, the Canadian, Celine Tardif”, she adds.

The change in league and style of play has allowed the American born, Canadian to develop the offensive part of her game. In the two Gold medal winning seasons at Clarkson she scored just 11 points, all assists, in 76 games.

By contrast, in the regular season at Gothenburg HC she has nearly 0.50 PPG, including 9 goals, making her the team’s joint top scorer alongside English forward, Louisa Tippart Durnell and young Swede, Hanna Thuvik.

But Keenan’s personal success does not overshadow the needs of the team, “Obviously, right now our main focus is on winning the qualifications [to remain in the SDHL]”, she says.

“We need to play our best hockey as a team,” she says taking her experience from the NCAA and applying it here in Sweden. “We are best when we’re moving our feet and playing with confidence, so it is important we bring that energy.” And she adds, “it’s vital that we bring that desperation and discipline it takes to win a three-game series”.

Whilst only 22, Keenan is one of the most decorated players in the team, and you can expect her to be commanding the blue line in the qualifications.

It is the third year in a row Gothenburg HC have been in this position, that is, every year they been in the SDHL.

It was a bit of a shaky start, but they got the vital first match away victory win against Malmö Redhawks last night, coming away with a 1-2 win.

And you can be certain that Keenan and the rest of the club have every intention of taking victory on home ice this weekend and securing another year in the top flight.

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A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW: Anna Borgfeldt (GHC) - my most enjoyable season

When she came back from the United States aged 22 years old, Anna Borgfeldt thought her hockey career was over.

Three years later, when work took her to Sweden’s second city, she could not help but look up the local club, Gothenburg HC. “I missed being part of a team,” she says, “and I’ve been “stuck” in Angered ever since!” she says with a smile.

Now 26 years old she is playing in her fourth year at the club, three in the top division, the SDHL, where she has also been captain for the west coast team.

The club have had a rough ride in an increasingly competitive SDHL, surviving through winning the qualification to the SDHL against Division 1 teams each year. But Borgfeldt herself has seen year on year improvements and continues to be one of the team’s top scorers.

“This has been the most enjoyable season we have had so far as a team, considering the amount of close games we have played,” the forward says about the club’s performance. It has definitely been one of the best in the club’s SDHL history, even if the final result has not always gone their way.

“Personally, I have believed more in my ability as a player and have had great company around me which has made me a better player on the ice,” she reflects, pointing to how a team can made the individual shine.

She as played for Linköping HC and for Sweden’s international team before her first “retirement” from the sport.

And in 2010 she got to play in the U18 World Championships in Chicago, USA with a team that included Lisa Johansson (AIK) and Michelle Löwenhielm (HV71). She and the team picked up an impressive Bronze medal, whilst a USA team that contained Zoe Hickel (Linköping HC) collected Silver.

Borgfeldt enjoyed her time playing with Quinnipiac in the NCAA, but says she prefers the “broader range of freedom and opportunity for creativity in Sweden”.

The increased number of North Americans in the SDHL over the last few years has meant that she has had the opportunity to play against some of her teammates from college days, like Emma Woods, now at rivals’ Leksand IF, “It was a lot of fun to see Woodsy again, brings back a lot of college memories”.

And whilst some people are critical to the amount of import players in Sweden, I’m in agreement with the former Bronze medallist’s assessment, “It would be fun if more transatlantic players would come to Europe to play once graduated from College”.

Players like Borgfeldt and her Gothenburg teammates play an important part in the SDHL. Many of the best players in the Swedish league, whether Swedish or imports, have learnt their trade in the American college system and then come to Europe to play. A mix of home grown players and imports is the way forward for the women’s game – a formula that has prove successful in the men’s game in Sweden and, of course, in the NHL itself.

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SDHL: Interview Hanna Thuvik (GHC) - the results can be seen on the ice

Hanna Thuvik is only 17 years old, but is already in her second full season at senior level in the SDHL with Gothenburg HC. Not only that, but this year she is the team’s top scoring Swede with the same points as imports Louisa Durnell and Emma Keenan, all with 17 points (9G+8A).

Whilst majoring on the SDHL, she has also played a few games with Division 1, Trollhättans HC. So, I ask Thuvik what’s the difference between the top two leagues, “it’s the speed”, she says analytically, “both in the skating and puck tempo”.

It will come as no surprise that she has represented her country at the recent U18 World Championships in Japan in January. Sweden came in fifth, but for Thuvik it was about the whole experience, “it was lots of fun,” she says with a smile, “it is great to play against the best in the world in your age group and measure yourself against them”. She rightly has a long-term goal to get a place in the senior team.

Back in Gothenburg HC, I get her to reflect on her development as a player this season, “personally, I think this season has gone quite well for me. I have developed my skating and been much stronger on the puck. And of course, my points production has increased, which was one of my main goals this year”.

What has made the difference?

“I think I’ve have been given more responsibility by our coach, which has meant I have a better self-confidence and that can be seen in the results on the ice,” she says, showing how important the mental part of the game is, as well as technical ability. “One key area”, she adds,” is that I have been more aggressive in attacking the net”.

The club have one final challenge left this season as they go into the qualification for the SDHL against the Malmö Redhawks after coming last in the top division. The young Swede was part of the Gothenburg HC team that won the equivalent series last year. But few would doubt their ability to hold on in the SDHL where the club has their best season so far and where Thuvik would love one day win the Swedish Championships.

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