Coach Marts visits Prague
Coach Marts visits Prague
Swedish national team coach tours WM facilities
A lot of work goes into preparing a team for the IIHF World Championship. In addition to actually building the team, there are a lot of logistical details that need to be planned well in advance, which is why Marts and other members of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association were in town this week.
"We want to see the hotel and how far it is from the arena," the coach explained. "We also want to see the dressing room here and then drive to Tipsport Arena (which will be used as a practice facility) and see how long it takes, and if there will be heavy traffic at certain times of the day. Just to be prepared for what's coming up."
For Marts, who's been involved in hockey as a player and coach for over four decades and who's now entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Swedish national team, it's always a pleasure to return to the Czech capital.
"I've been in Prague many times before and I love the city. In some ways it's like Stockholm, with a lot of water and old buildings. I like the people too, they are familiar to Swedes."
Comparing it to the trips the team took last season to Sochi and Minsk for the Olympics and World Championships, he said, "The culture was different than what we are used to (in Sweden). I think this culture (in the Czech Republic) is more like us."
If past examples are any indication, the rest of the Swedish team will feel right at home in Prague as well, winning the gold medal for the second straight year in 1992 and then claiming silver in the most recent Czech-hosted World Championship in 2004.
"In 1992 I was coaching the Swedish U-20 team, but I watched the World Championship on television," Marts recalls. "I think Swedish teams have a lot of good memories from the Czech Republic."
After seeing the arena and the dressing room that his team will use, he shared his observations and answered some questions about the team he expects to bring in seven months' time.
"It's nice, of course," he said of O2 Arena, which will host Group A, as well as two quarter-finals as well as both semi-finals and medal games. "We have to win no matter where we play, but we'll try to make this our home arena during the tournament."
The atmosphere will be different when it's full of fans. Do you think many Swedish fans will make the trip to support you?
I don't know how many there will be but I hope we see some yellow jerseys in the stands here. There will be a lot more Czech fans for sure and they are very loud, but that's even good for us when there's a lot of noise in the arena. I don't mind that.
So Czech fans are louder than Swedish fans?
I think Czech fans are different from Swedish fans. The Swedish fans like us when we win, but I think Czech fans are proud of their team even when they lose, and I'm not used to that but I like it.
As for your team, what do you expect on the ice?
Every time you start from zero. There are so many teams that are quite close in talent level and so there will be a lot of close games. You just have to be in every game and give yourselves a chance to win. But the players are all used to that. One key is to bring in the best players from Sweden and the NHL. We have more than 140 players in North America right now. We also have 26 in Russia and 15 in Switzerland, which is where I'm headed next to see some games.
Speaking of the NHL players, only the ones who are out of the playoffs will be available to you. Is it difficult building a team when you don't know which players you can have?
Of course it is. I coached the Under-20 team for three years and that's a huge difference when you know what team you've got. You saw last year we had an experienced team in Minsk and we ended up third, so I think Sweden is ready to perform when they need to. We don't know which players will be there, but I hope we'll have a great team.
You sometimes see teams add players during the tournament as they get eliminated from the NHL playoffs. What is your philosophy on that?
It depends on injuries and on how far some teams go in the playoffs. Otherwise, if you can, it's better to have the team from the beginning. I think this year the NHL stops around the 11th of April, so we have around three weeks to pick players from that league.
Do you have an idea how many from the NHL you would take and how many from Sweden?
No, not yet. We'll pick the best players, wherever they're playing. That's what this is all about.
Regarding the international events in Europe during the season, how do you use them to prepare the European-based players for the team?
We have some scheduling conflicts with the Champions League and the KHL is still going on, so I expect to have a lot of phone calls from coaches and general managers who won't want us to pick certain players, but it's the same for the Finns or the Czechs. It's a tough situation but I hope everyone works in the best interests of hockey because we're not competing with each other - we're a small family and we have to do things together. That's the major issue right now.
What do you think of the changes to the Euro Hockey Tour this season?
I can see that we don't fill the arenas when we play in Sweden. I don't know why because we are ranked number one and I think we do well and have some good players. But we don't fill the arenas so we have to do something different.
Finally, when asked about his prediction for the tournament, Marts answered with a wry grin, "It would be great to be in the final against the Czechs.”
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