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Flying Under the Radar in the Swedish 1st Division

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The Swedish Elite League is steaming on with high quality games between more or less even teams, just this last weekend where the top teams played close games against those in the bottom of the standings. I would say right now the difference between top and bottom is similar to the difference between Canada/USA and Sweden/Finland on the international stage which is not to bad and I’m quite certain the quality is going to stick next season as the league expands from 8 to 10 teams.

So this will be a little tour of whats beneath the top tier of Swedish hockey. There are four regional 1st divisions (North, West, East and South) where six teams moves on to a qualification series starting February and beyond that there is also a couple of 2nd divisions (West and South) who basically plays a recreational role with room for new players do develop in areas without Elite representation.

The big problem here is the huge span between top and bottom of the 1st division, it’s sad really that economic factors are the main reason why we haven’t got a national 1st division similar to the men’s leagues. Just last Sunday I watched a game in the D1 East where probable qualifier Södertälje played last place team Kallhäll and won 19-0, sadly it was not even fun to watch when Södertälje actually benched their first and second lines a period each just to even the game out. Actually I felt bad for both teams, Södertälje for not getting to play the tough games needed to prepare for the upcoming qualification series and Kallhäll who doesn’t have any other league to play in so they have to be humiliated game after game instead. I’m impressed by Kallhäll though, they skated, tried to pull for a breakaway with a player circling at center ice all the time and still down by 15 goals playing with a smile on their faces, you could see they love the game no matter what.

This situation is pretty much the same over the whole 1st division system, a few top teams competitive with the bottom of the Elite league and some teams in the bottom who are getting defiled game after game. As the Elite league expands to 10 teams I imagine a new 1st division with another 10 teams of the same design including development teams of the 4 “big” clubs that has their own hockey high schools for girls. So let’s speculate that this would become a reality, then the rest of the teams in the 1st and 2nd divisions could be placed in regional divisions with 4-6 teams each. I think this would open the door for more players to swich clubs without having to make a big break and move away from home, for example if the teams around Stockholm would re-distribute their players a bit there would be a couple of really good teams in a possible Semi-Elite league.

There are actually a bunch of players in the Swedish 1st divisions who would make good additions to any Elite team if they wanted or could take the risk of moving away from home. Some stay out of loyalty to their teams with the ambition to help them advance to a higher level, others because it’s real hard moving to another town, getting somewhere to live and work which sadly enough is still the reality for a women’s hockey star player.

Next years expansion will put some great players on the radar for national team consideration. I’ve been following HV71 a few years now, and thereby upcoming international stars Maja Jakobsson and Ida Karlsson both with a lot of experience from the Swedish U18 national team. A couple of great, hard working players both on and off the ice and I do admire them so much for a long, tough struggle to bring HV71 back to the top of Swedish hockey and I wouldn’t think twice about using my top picks for an All-Star team on them!
That being said, HV is one of the main contenders for advancement to the Elite league come springtime, not only Maja and Ida as vital components of the team but also Regina alumni’s Katelyn Kennedy and Kendra Finch as well as a good mix of young prospects and experienced power players. My bet is HV71 and Djurgården will take two of the four top spots in the qualification series and get to play top hockey next season. Hopefully gearing up with some of the Europeans graduating their college teams this season like, Michelle Karvinen, Andrea Dalen, Josefine Jakobsen and Johanna Fällman (UND), Klara Myrén (Vermont), Erica Udén-Johansson and Anna Borgfeldt (Quinnipiac). Each of them would be excellent additions to any team in Sweden and why not continue the way Bailey Bram and Jennifer Wakefield has started paving with internationals superstars making the league the best in Europe.

Next week the European Women Champions Cup begins it’s semi-final round as Linköping hosts one of three tournaments leading to the final round. I’m very excited about the games as Finnish Espoo Blues, Italian Bolzano Eagles and Kazakhstan’s Aisulu Almaty brings their different playing styles over. It’s so awesome getting a maxxed out weekend of international competition and getting to meet some interesting new players!

That’s all for now, keep working hard and remember to live your dreams!!

Mats

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