Sweden was expected to be the focal point of the World Para Ice Hockey calendar this spring, with Ostersund set to host the European Championships in April.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Swedish government’s decision to cancel all large-scale events, however, the tournament was cancelled to prioritise the health and well-being of all athletes, staff and the general public.
While Rickhard Hardstram was unable to coach Sweden’s national team for the first time at a major international tournament in his home country, he has had more time to reflect and strategise on how to grow Sweden’s Para ice hockey player and fanbase in the months moving forward.
Sweden, the first Paralympic champions in Para ice hockey, have a richer history in the sport than any other nation.
The sport, in fact, was founded at a rehabilitation center in the Swedish capital Stockholm during the early 1960’s by a group of physically impaired Swedes who wanted to continue playing hockey.
Although they have three World Championship medals to their name, Sweden have not made the podium at the event in 15 years. The nation finished in sixth and seventh place at the last two World Championship A-Pool events.
Here’s a closer look at some insight from Hardstam:
When did you start your role as head coach and how did you get the job?
I started in April 2019. I had a meeting with the organization, which asked if I was interested in coaching the team.
What is your best memory thus far of coaching Team Sweden?
The World Championships last year was a great experience even if the results didn’t go our way.
What is the main goal for the future of the sport in your country?
We have to find more players if we want the sport to survive in Sweden.
While the European Championships were cancelled, what are you and the team doing at home to stay active during this time?
The players are practising in their home environment on their own.
If you were not a para ice hockey coach, which other sport would you coach and why?
I’m also coaching a women’s hockey team in the SDHL [Swedish Women’s Hockey League], so if I weren’t focusing on Para ice hockey, I’d would probably just do that.
What are your plans for the team during the off-season?
The coronavirus has stopped our team meetings, but we’re hoping to have our first training camp again in August.