Five Swedish NHL-Prospects Centre Of Controversy

By Peter Westermark

Five swedish junior players – Christian Berglund, Jonas Elofsson and Mikael Holmkvist of Färjestad and the Sedin-twins of MoDo – are finding themselves caught in the middle of a controversy which has lost all proportions.

In mid-june, the five above-mentioned players were selected for a junior-torunament with Sweden’s National Junior Team in Lake Placid and all of them accepted. But, a couple of weeks ago they made a U-Turn and said that they wouldn’t play. Their decision was made after the coaches of their respective clubs had talked to them and said that they needed them for pre-season games which they would miss if they accepted the invitation to play for the national team.

When the coaches spoke to these five players they said something along the lines of “We want you to play all pre-season games, because we feel that you should get the chance to earn yourself a spot as a regular on the team this season”, which could be interpreted as “if you leave you’ll sit on the bench when you get home”. Since neither of these players had been regulars on their team last season, and crucial years of their development are coming up, they felt that they should stay in Sweden and play the pre-season games.

Now, that decision could not only make them miss an International Junior tournament, it could also earn them suspensions. The Swedish Ice-Hockey federation are saying that these players have an obligation to show up and play, and they are threatening them with suspensions. Apalled at this course of action the Färjestad coach, Bo Lennartsson, has said that he will not coach Team Sweden in the Karjala Cup in November as he was scheduled to do.

This is a soap-opera which has lost all proportions. Too many huge egos are telling these kids what to do. If the kids had the option to choose themselves what to do, without the influence of their club’s coaches, it would most certainly be to play with the National Team. After all, that feels more important than some pre-season game, right? When every team plays over ten pre-season games, and the start of the season is more than one month away it’s hard to see the relevance in the coaches argument that they need the junior-players for every single pre-season game. Another argument which has come from the coaches is that they would be undermanned in a couple of games when the kids are not playing, but how could a team not survive playing two or three games with five defensemen, or eight forwards ?

For regular followers of Swedish Hockey, the constant fight between clubs and the federation is something that all are used to. They always manage to find something to argue about, and this time five promising young players are caught in the middle.

Time for these middle-aged men to grow up and get out of the sandbox.

NOTE: Henrik and Daniel Sedin are early candidates for being drafted in the Top ten in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Mikael Holmkvist was drafted in the first round by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997, Per Elofsson was drafted in the 4th round by the Edmonton Oilers in 1997 and Christian Berglund was drafted in the 2nd round by the New Jersey Devils in 1998.