As a Canadian goaltender, the first thing that I can tell you is the difference between both countries is the emphasis on skill over team management. In Canada, we do focus on skill and player development from a young age, but add in tactics and plays very early on too. As a Peewee AA goaltender, our coaching staff introduced different zone tactics and where a player needed to be on the ice. The individual skill was fit into practice but more so how to fit into the team.
Sweden however, at the same age allows their players to focus on their skating, shooting, and passing. There isn’t much structure at the same age with tactical hockey. The emphasis is on the players’ development which usually can be found within the structure of the organization. Hockey camps are given throughout the season to players on weekends or during breaks where skill drills are put to the test. Where as during the season for most Canadians, the skill work is saved for private coaching or on players own time. To give an example, growing up we needed to buy private lessons from different goaltending companies to have specific training to help improve my game and understand the tactical points of goaltending. Most Swedish goaltenders have a goaltending coach even from a young age who is usually certified by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. This makes a big difference when a family and player do not need to pay for development out-of-pocket which in turn allows the family to not stress as much in the financial sector.
The difference in ice size lends itself to a different style of play, the focus is on quick feet and moving the puck faster, this is where I find Sweden and Canada are similar. Both teach that passing the puck quickly is a greater advantage than trying to skate it. Where they begin to change is on zone entry. Canadians are more willing to play a physical brand of hockey and gain the zone through dump and chase. Swedes on the other hand very rarely, if at all do this. They would rather hold the puck and carry it into the zone every time. If the players’ skill is high they usually can do so but if not can lead to a lot of offsides and turnovers at the danger points on the ice. In the offensive zone, I find that Canadian players are shooting for an opportunity through screens and for rebounds. With smaller ice players are under more pressure to get the puck on the net and create chances instead of passing it around and possibly leading to a turnover. Swedes, however, tend to look for the pass first and are willing to take the risk and move the puck around the zone looking for an opening. Since the ice is bigger players can and will move to the high slot and make a pass to the low backdoor, Canadian players, when given the chance to shoot in this area, will do so.
I find that players in Sweden tend to all be able to shoot, skate and pass at a pretty good level for each age group but the team aspect can sometimes be lacking in structure tactically speaking. Canadian players, on the other hand, may not have full skill throughout the line-up, but seem to understand the tactical area much better and so fit better into the team system even as a weaker player.
As a goaltender, I think the biggest difference in that position is the emphasis on blocking and RVH. From most dangerous areas the RVH is the go-to move and goaltenders are very focused on playing between the posts. They want as little movement as possible and to keep every save, crease movement and save as efficient as possible. In my time here, I have found I am more patient on my feet due to puck movement and must rely on playing a deeper game to make saves. Normally, in Canada, I would play with my heels on the crease where as in Sweden most of the time my toes are slightly under it and my knees when making saves land in the white ice about 6 inches outside.
Puckhandling, as a Canadian this is expected. A goaltender should be able to move and play the puck well enough to help out the defense and team. Sweden not so much, from my experience being a goaltender who likes to handle the puck is a great asset if your team understands what is going on. If they don’t, it creates bigger problems for you and everyone else at the end of the day. Communication is key in this area to avoid collisions and poor turnovers.
Finally, the attitude of players is very different in Sweden and Canada. Most Swedes are relaxed before games, no dress suits, not always a very big focused warm up, all in all, it’s a time to unwind before the pressure starts. In Canada from a young age suits and ties are common apparel with many players focused and intense before stepping out for the game, everyone seems dialed in. It could be a cultural dynamic that I can’t say.
These are some small points that I have noticed the difference between Canadian and Swedish hockey.
If you have other points you would like to add or discuss leave a comment or find me on Twitter and Instagram @altsy01.