Three countries left standing, Part 3: Jorgen Lindgren – Sweden
Jorgen Lindgren is the GM of Sweden's top league, the SHL, and on the CHL's board representing the leagues. We spoke to him to find out a little bit more about how the CHL fits into the overall Swedish hockey picture.
by Luke Fisher
Sweden excelled in the first two Champions Hockey League seasons, with two SHL sides contesting the 2014-15 Final (and three in the semis) and last year Frolunda Gothenburg retaining the title for the Scandinavian nation.
We started by asking Mr. Lindgren what it means to the SHL to have teams doing well in European competition.
"The CHL is especially important for the league and for the teams," affirmed Lindgren straight off the bat. "To be in Europe competing with good teams and leagues, up against different styles of hockey, is invaluable and also helps the national team. There's also value for the league season, that good results gets you into the CHL."
While Swedish teams did dominate the first two years, things have gone a bit differently this time around. Lulea Hockey, champions from 2014-15, failed to get out of their group, while only three teams made it into the last eight this season.
"It shows how the competition is getting closer and closer. All of Europe is playing better," thinks Lindgren, who also pointed out that the diversity of European leagues is helping to make better games in the CHL. "We have lots of players now outside their 'home' leagues – for example, Swedes going abroad, and then players from different nations on teams in Sweden and Finland – which shows that all countries are improving.
"Overall, the CHL has really widened the scope of playing hockey in Europe. With 48 teams from different nations, it's 'broken the ice' so to say."
While the rest of Europe has begun to catch up this season, there is still the possibility of an all-Swedish Final. Why have the SHL teams been so strong in the CHL?
"It's difficult to say. I think it's a sign of the leagues, quality-wise and also we have had eight teams that qualified so far. In Sweden we have good teams and players, and a lot of players in NHL, KHL, and NLA, which are good leagues, so we have a good base of developing players."
With the beginning of the CHL season taking place over August and September, many SHL clubs have taken the opportunity to give their younger players a chance to show what the can do – with impressive returns. It's also something that's carried on into the SHL season, as Lindgren explains: "You can see for the SHL, and CHL, we have been using younger and younger players playing in the games. The skill of these players, getting them to take a leading role, and being out and playing internationally is very important for their development and our national team."
A less positive note in Sweden over the three CHL seasons so far, however, has been the attendance at games. Despite teams doing well, some of the games haven't seen particularly big crowds, something Lindgren, the SHL, and the clubs are addressing.
"It's been one of the things we've struggled with, and we're trying different things to improve," he admitted. "Fewer teams in the competition, who have all qualified to take part, will definitely help. This new format, and the increased quality, will create more meaningful games."
He added: "We also need to market the games better than we have done in the past, make it more edgy, build the games up differently with more facts and history about the teams coming to Sweden. We've started including the games on the season tickets, and have more drives planned.
"It's easy to think that we're not working with this product, but we are. We foresee some big changes with the new format. It's a great idea to have fewer teams from all countries, and we're getting closer to 'the best playing the best'," concluded the SHL GM.