Rikard Grönborg is the head coach of the Swedish men’s national team. He sat down with this week with our contributor, Eddy Jones, and the rest of the Forever Mighty team, about his journey into coaching, working with Swedish legends, European coaches in the NHL, Isac Lundestrom, the Anaheim Ducks, an NHL team in Sweden and more.
**Editors Note** Before you read any further, I just want to extend a big thank you to Rikard Grönborg, coach of the Swedish men’s national team, for taking time out of his very busy schedule to conduct this interview. I hope all of you Anaheim Ducks fans enjoy his interview.
Whether we see him with the Ducks organization in the next few years, or somewhere else in the NHL, I admire his work and think he would be a valuable asset to the NHL. I am of the opinion that he would be a great choice as the Anaheim Ducks head coach. Nevertheless, it is not up to me to make that decision or convince you that he is the best candidate.
Again, although we are not affiliated in any way with Forever Mighty, our contributor Eddy Jones, along with his co-hosts Jason Lamb and Patrick Mahoney, were kind enough to let us be a part of this interview and are excited to share it with you. We have full permission from the crew over at Forever Mighty to use the content in the interview with coach Grönborg conducted by Eddy, Jason, and Patrick.
Our good friends at Forever Mighty are very supportive of Pucks of a Feather and everything we do here, and it has been an honor to get to know them. Not only as fellow Anaheim Ducks fans, but to become their friends. I would like to extend a huge thank you to our contributor Eddy Jones, and his co-hosts, Patrick Mahoney, and Jason Lamb, for their continued support of Pucks of a Feather and FanSided.
Due to the extensive length of the interview with coach Grönborg, we included the questions we through prevalent and most important for you to know. We encourage you to go listen to the full interview after reading this condensed transcript of a few of the questions we asked Rikard Grönborg. A full account of the interview can be found at the end of the article.
(Forever Mighty): Tell us a little about where you’ve been and what you’re doing currently.
(Rikard Grönborg): I’ve been in the US for quite some time, I’m a US citizen. I came over and played college hockey at St. Cloud State University. Probably the best time in my life with everything, obviously doing school work at the same time as playing hockey is a pretty amazing thing to do.
After I was done I had three years of eligibility there, I moved back to Sweden, back to Stockholm and finished off my career there for a couple years. And when I got back to the US I went back to school and finished my degree at St. Cloud, and they asked me to become an assistant and that was my first year of dipping my toe into the coaching profession.
That was almost 20 years ago and I’ve been coaching since then. The last 10 years I’ve been with the Swedish national team. I worked my way up from being a coach with the U18, up to U20, and now I’m the head coach for the national team. To make a long story short there, that’s kind of my career of coaching. I’ve coached in different levels in the US and Canada. I coached in different junior leagues in the US and I coached in the CHL one year with the Spokane Chiefs.
(FM): You played for St. Cloud and then ended up going back and being a coach. How do you go from being a hockey player to a hockey coach? Is that something you always wanted to do?
(RG): Absolutely not. I was so far from a coach as a player. You know obviously as a player you’re thinking about what you need to do next shift, or what you need to do next practice. Obviously you’re always a team player and you always try to do what’s right for the team, but obviously, you focus on what you’re supposed to do.
That was kind of my world until I got back and talked to the coach there, and after talking to him for an hour or so he thought I’d be the perfect guy for a graduate assistant job and helping us push pucks for the first year. I thought it was a pretty good transition too from being a player for so many years to quote-on-quote regular life.
(FM): You made the decision as a player to come over to North America from Sweden. We are starting to see more players do that either before or right after they’re drafted.
Most recently, Adam Boqvist chose to play in the OHL and Isac Lundestrom the AHL over returning to the SHL. Speaking from experience what goes into a decision like that, and how hard can it be to transition to the North American style of play?
(RG): First of all those guys are a little bit more highly touted than I was, but I think everyone needs to do their own ride, if you like. They need to make their own decision and what’s best for them at that point in time. I think we are doing a great job in Sweden of developing talent.
I think that’s obviously evident with the players we are producing to the NHL and also the success we’ve had in the World Championships. So, I think the environment in Sweden is really good, but sooner or later for these guys, their biggest dream is obviously to play in the NHL and the fastest way to do that, I don’t know what’s the best way to do it, but I think it’s pretty individual.
If you’re moving over here, obviously you get accustomed to the culture and playing in smaller rinks. I think it’s a personal journey and decision you have to make with the people you surround yourself with. For me, it was a perfect way of actually getting an education and playing the same time at a high level. That was my biggest draw to it.
(FM): There are a lot of European players in the NHL, when do you think there are going to be more European coaches?
(RG): That’s a great question. I consider myself more of a hybrid to be perfectly honest with you. I’ve coached against some great coaches in North America and I’ve coached against some great coaches in Europe. There are greats minds of hockey in both places. I think it’s just a matter of making a decision or going outside the box a bit for the decision makers and maybe having an interest in European coaches.
The game is so small right now when it comes to knowing what each other is doing. It’s so universal, the similar things that you bring up, and I think we are all stealing from each other and the same thing with North Americans. I think it’s just a matter of time, I think it’s just a matter of the people who are making those decisions.
There are not many jobs, first of all, I mean there are only 31 teams. I think it’s a two-way street of European coaches making more available and the decision-makers in North America to have more interest in European coaches.
(FM): Do you think NHL GM’s are too afraid because of the perceived differences in styles of play? The NA game vs the European game as it’s said.
(RG): I don’t think it is anymore. I think it’s pretty universal. Like I said, there is always certain things… with the Russian national team, or the Finns that’s kind of their DNA, or the core of their coaching, and the way they’re playing.
At the same time, I think it’s very universal because when you get to those big tournaments, I’m talking the Olympics with NHL players or the World Cups or even the World Championships, with NHL players coming back to the national teams. They’re used to playing in North American rinks, against North American players, in a North American environment.
And those are the type of players I’ve been coaching for the last few years, so it’d be kind of stupid of me to play the same way the Swedes did in 1995 and expect to have success that way. I think the game right now is so universal, I don’t think there’s a big difference. There is a tactical difference when it comes to a larger or smaller rink, but other than that the way you work on your players, the way you prepare your players before the game I feel is pretty universal.
(Forever Mighty): The one defining trait about Isac Lundestrom that many Ducks fans have picked up on is his responsibility with the puck. How much do you think that has to do with the fact he was playing in the SHL for the last two seasons? Not many players his age accomplish that.
(Rikard Grönborg): It’s a tough league to break in and it’s a fast league. You talk about speed and it’s a very fast league. I think he’s done a great job with Lulea and he got the chance to play with us in the national team and did a really good with that. It was the first time I worked with him last year and he did a really good job.
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I agree with you, his responsibility with the puck and also he can challenge you 1-on-1. A lot of times he’ll outsmart you. I think Anaheim’s got a really good player there. It’s just what’s the next step for him? And that’s what I think they are trying to figure out. He needs some more minutes and that’s why I think they sent him down probably.
(FM): So there are a lot of Ducks fans that know about you and that you’re obviously Swedish, and there are many who call Anaheim – Swedenheim. PLUS you have experience with some of those guys over here. Doesn’t it seem like a perfect fit here? I mean the weather alone is enough for most!
(RG): No question, I love California, I love Southern California especially. The players I’ve worked with from the Anaheim organization have been tremendous players and tremendous people. There’s no question on that. I think right now obviously Anaheim is kind of in a change of guard if you like when it comes to player personnel.
I think the new generation is getting more and more ice time and moving up the ranks of the team. I’m sure it’s a little bit of a challenge there. But at the same time, I think at the end Anaheim will have an excellent chance of making the playoffs. To answer your question, my goal as a coach is obviously trying to get a break into the NHL. Where is that? I don’t know.
We would like to, once again, thank Rikard Grönborg. We hope to see him make his big break into the NHL soon! His style of coaching would fit in perfectly with the direction the NHL is headed in. We hope you enjoyed this interview. If you missed it, check out the interview Eddy and co. did with Max Jones!