It’s rather hard to keep your mind on this quintessentially winter sport while sitting on the balcony on this beautiful and sunny day in Stockholm. But we just flew back from Luleå, where you can still walk (and even drive – see photo at the bottom of this article) on the frozen sea! Also, when would be a better time than now, during the finals? No matter how it sounds, it’s a hot season for hockey fans.
I can’t think of a more popular sport than ice hockey in Sweden. At least over the winter season, which means most of the time… 🥶 . You can obviously live in Stockholm peacefully, knowing nothing about hockey for years. Well, you can even date a Swede who plays hockey and still ignore it (yes, you can!). It took me five years to get hooked on hockey, and there are reasons why.
Ice hockey in Sweden has a history going back to at least 1912. Nowadays about 90,000 people play ice hockey here. It is still way less than the number of people practicing football – circa 600,000 (I just pulled these figures off the respective national association’s web pages). Part of it is that ice hockey is more expensive in terms of equipment. It starts at 10 000 SEK for a beginner, and then there are membership fees and stuff. It is not really accessible unless you are middle class. The cost to play in Sweden can vary, but is usually between 10.000 SEK to 25.000 SEK + room and board (3000-4000 SEK/month).
I compare those two disciplines because the sport was first organized by the Swedish Football Association. Sweden is still probably the only place (if not, then at least first) where parents are really involved in their kids’ practice. Before children join any of the junior clubs, parents teach them the first steps on the ice. It is obviously beneficial for the whole family, and also creates bonds. According to research, those who are playing hockey at a young age are more likely to play it later on as well. Not every child will become successful in this particular field, but it’s worth mentioning on this occasion that Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves also played hockey in high school, before he decided to become an actor.
Interesting fact: Ten percent of the active players in the NHL (the best league in the world) are Swedes.
It wouldn’t be a stretch if I say hockey is a great foundation. The mentality also has something to do with it. With hockey being a team sport, kids will learn really quickly that the strength comes from the team. The spirit of the game will build trust and responsibility. Hockey is a game of strategy as well as one event leads to another, which can help you succeed. Or not. Lesson for life, really. Some may argue, but hockey players are the most dedicated athletes in town. They keep playing even when they get punched in the face – which happens quite a lot…
However, it’s not just a men’s world. The sport is popular among girls as well and they are doing pretty well. Female hockey is one of the fastest-growing youth sports in the United States. The Swedish team Damkronorna (The Lady Crowns) had traditionally been the fourth-best women’s team in the world.
And the fans are not just men. In the stands you can spot almost an equal number of male and female supporters. In Luleå I met a lovely lady Elisabeth, a Luleå HF dedicated follower, who had never missed a game since 2005! She told me it gives her joy, excitement and a sense of community and I must say her spirit was just contagious. The games are rather spectacular and remind me of modern gladiators. Mostly because of the protective equipment that weighs in at some 10kg, up to 20kg for the goalkeeper. So the players are rather fit, I guess. Oh, and If you haven’t heard the Swedes being loud, you should go to a hockey game!
Basic stuff for those who got inspired:
Games consist of periods of 3 x 20 minutes. Every break takes 20 minutes and there is a good reason behind it – 18 minutes is for the ice to be repaired. The players rotate, so that no individual player is actually active for more than 20 minutes, tops, usually about 15. Not many are aware of it, but hockey is a high-speed game. According to Wikipedia the fastest hockey players reach top speeds of approximately 25 mp/h or 40 km/h. The pucks can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) or more when struck during the game. You don’t have the time to doze off in hockey, things can shift in a blink of an eye.
Special thanks to Peter Jidstrome, Head of Sales and Marketing for a great tour around the Coop Norbotten Arena in Luleå.