On Friday afternoon, I was fortunate to speak by phone with Rikard Grönborg, arguably the most buzzworthy head coaching candidate in the world today.
Grönborg, 50, is a man of international intrigue.
Frequent readers of this space are familiar with the many accounts I have written that profile Grönborg’s career trajectory.
At the conclusion of the 2019 IIHF World Championship tournament, Grönborg will become an unrestricted free agent head coach. His timing is impeccable. Three high-profile NHL teams have head coaching vacancies. The list of NHL teams with bench boss vacancies may grow in the next month. Grönborg has earned an opportunity to challenge himself in the best hockey league in the world.
You can’t call him an outsider. To the contrary.
Grönborg is an outlier. Two times over, Grönborg has invested his 10,000 hours to become an expert in his craft.
You cannot tell tell me that Grönborg is not one of the top 31 hockey head coaches in the world. You just can’t.
The Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks are searching high and low to find their next head coach.
In our conversation, Grönborg told me that he is interested in seeing what opportunities exist for him outside of being the best head coach Sweden. Grönborg is in hot pursuit of his goal of becoming a head coach in the National Hockey League.
Time is on his side. His contract with the Swedish national team expires at the conclusion of the 2019 IIHF World Championships. Last summer, Grönborg declined a three-year contract extension to remain the high-profile head coach of Sweden’s national program. There were reasons for his decision. Grönborg feels strongly about his chances of earning a head coaching job in the NHL. Grönborg’s impressive body of work includes head coaching success at the U-18, U-20, and national team levels for Team Sweden.
Grönborg does not want to be unfairly typecast as being a great “European” head coach. Grönborg has goals and aspirations of becoming a great head coach in the NHL, the best league in the world.
Don’t judge the book by it’s cover.
Grönborg is a damn good hockey coach. To Grönborg, hockey is universal. The language, and idiosyncrasies of hockey are the same all over the world.
Gone are the days where labels are put on coaches as being "American", "Swedish", "Canadian", "Finnish", or "Russian".
Grönborg continues to bust silos with his intellect and knowledge. He continues to debunk the myths. He's shifting the paradigm. Grönborg is here to unify global hockey once and for all.
Grönborg is the United Nations of Hockey.
He wants to be challenged. He’s curious about coaching in the NHL because he is already coaching NHLers in Sweden.
When the NHL lockout ended in 2013, there were 63 Swedish born players in the NHL. Grönborg told me there are currently 97 different Swedish-born players competing and playing in the NHL today. Roughly 10% of today’s NHL rank and file work force members hail from Sweden. The 32% growth the past six seasons of Swedish-born players is impressive. The forecast calls for more Swedish-born players joining NHL teams in the near future. Swedish composition in the NHL continues to grow.
After our conversation, I went to QuantHockey to analyze NHL players by nationality. Grönborg‘s analysis was bang on. The NHL is growing it’s share of players from United States, Sweden , Finland and Russia since the 2012-13 lockout. I knew there was a decline in NHL players from Canada but I did not know that it was as pronounced as it is today.
Grönborg‘s presentation skills are elite level. He presents data in an easy to understand fashion so not to lose the attention of his audience members. For this reason, Grönborg is a frequent presenter at NHLCA coaching seminars in North America.
The NHL players whom Grönborg has coached and groomed have won Stanley Cups, as well as gold medals at the World Championship, World Junior Hockey Championship and U-18 level. Sweden continues to development excellent hockey players for export to the world at a high rate. Swedish born players are matriculating more and more to U.S. college programs and Canadian major junior teams.
So, why are there no Swedish-born head coaches in the NHL today?
Grönborg succeeds by getting the most he can out of his players by forming lasting relationships with each and every one of pupils. Why do you think so many millionaire NHLers want to come home to play for him each spring at the World Championships? Grönborg has coached the elite players like Henrik Lundqvist and Oliver Ekman Larsson since he joined the Swedish national program in 2008. Grönborg‘s relationships with his players stands the test of time.
Grönborg is respected and revered. He is a winner. Should he coach Team Sweden to a third straight gold medal at the World Championship, he will be immortalized by fans and media. Grönborg tole me he is not a very sentimental man. He stands humbled on his Team Sweden bench but he doesn’t let the back to back-gold-medal wins gibti his head.
To get a better understanding of where Grönborg is heading, you must first understand where he has been in his coaching career.
Grönborg honed his craft in the United States in the early 1990s. He was a standout hockey player didn’t. He know at the time he would one day be considered one of the most influential and respected hockey coaches in the world. Grönborg, a native of Huddinge, Sweden, played two seasons at St. Cloud State University in the State of Hockey. Grönborg was a defensive defenseman who patrolled the blue line for St. Cloud State for two seasons (1990-1991, 1991-1992). Grönborg also played two years of roller hockey for the Phoenix Cobras.
Grönborg achieved his goal of earning his degree from a respected American higher education institution.
After his NCAA playing days ended, Grönborg went home to Sweden where he finished up his career as a player for Tyringe and Hammarby in the Sweden’s first division. After he hung up his skates and tucked away his hockey bag for good, Grönborg went back to St. Cloud State to finish work on his Bachelor’s degree. While there, the hockey team asked him to become a graduate assistant.
The rest is history.
While in the United States, Grönborg earned his stripes as a coach at the University of Wisconsin-Stout (NCAA, associate coach), the Great Falls Americans (AWHL, head coach), Texas Blackhawks (AWHL, head coach) and Spokane Chiefs (WHL, assistant)
Since leaving Spokane ten years, he has been coaching with the Swedish national team. Grönborg told me Friday had he been hired to succeed Bill Peters as Spokane’s head coach in 2008, he may still be coaching in North America. In 2005, Peters, current Calgary Flames head coach, was hired to be Spokane’s head coach. Peters left Spokane in 2008 to become the head coach of the Rockford Ice Hogs. While at Spokane as an assistant coach, Grönborg was recruited by Team Sweden to return home to coach the national team. He gladly accepted.
In 2008, one door closed for Grönborg in North America while another door opened for him in Sweden.
In 2019, one door will be closing for Grönborg in Sweden. Most assuredly, another door will open for him simultaneously for Grönborg in the National Hockey League.
I would like to thank Grönborg for being gracious with his time and finding an opportunity to ask him questions about his past, present and future plans. Grönborg continues to prepare his Team Sweden squad to win it’s third consecutive gold medal at the IIHF World Championship.
On Thursday and Friday, Team Sweden compet Nordic Cup, a precursor tournament to the IIHF World Championship, which will be played in Bratislava, Slovakia from May 10-26. On Thursday night, the Swedes gave up three third period goals and lost to the host Finns in Helsinki. On Friday morning, Grönborg gathered his players to discuss what happened to cause a late third period collapse the night before. My conversation with Grönborg began as he had just returned to the team hotel after his Tre Kronor avenged their anger from the Thursday night third period snafu and bounced back to defeat Kakko and the Finns 3-1.
I find Grönborg to be a humble, intense, intelligent, passionate hockey mind
We spoke about Buffalo Sabres phenom and Calder Trophy finalist Rasmus Dahlin and whether the Super Swede will be playing for Team Sweden at the IIHF Worlds.
Just press play to listen to the conversation. Apologies for the cell phone connection.