Swedish fans heading for their team’s head-to-head with Sheffield Steelers this coming weekend reckon the Elite League is “weak.”
Södertälje, who play in their nation’s second tier Allsvenskan division, expect to bring around 100 fans with them to the UK. And Andreas Häggström, host of the Södertälje SK podcast and fan web site editor, says supporters don’t recognise the Elite League as a top European programme.
“In general that Swedish hockey fans look at British hockey as a weak league, just like in Norway, Denmark, France” he said.
“But it’s improving fast. I watch a lot of hockey and my guess is that the British champions probably could do ok in the Allsvenskan, where Södertälje plays. But usually players who are average in Allsvenskan go to British hockey and become star players. So there’s a difference.”
Two thousand fans turned up at the club’s ‘ice premiere’ last Wednesday and seem optimistic of their chances.
“Our goalkeeper, Alexander Sahlin, is one of the better keepers in the league and could probably play in the top division next season” said Häggström. “He’s very consistent and good on one-on-ones. We’ve switched a lot of the players from last season but our playmaker is still around, Fredric Weigel.
“He’s got 107 assist points in 123 games over three seasons. He can find a passing opportunity from anywhere, and is very good at keeping the puck.
“Then we have Henrik Nyberg, who is the speediest player we have. And, of course, big defenceman Nicklas Grossmann. He has returned home after 600 games in the NHL. He’s not young, and is probably slow on the skates.
“But his massive experience will make up for it.”
The Swede expects his side to win at least one of the friendly games at iceSheffield.
“A good start of the pre-season is important. No points are earned, but since the club is looking for promotion to the top league, it’s nice to have a good start.
“Put the bar at a high level from the start! We always want to win, no matter the match.”
Häggström added: “Two seasons ago we had nearly 2,000 fans attending the first away game of the season. But for Sheffield, I’d say we’ll be 70-100 people attending.
“We’ve looked forward to it all summer. We’ll bring banners and flags. We have a chant, famous nationwide, called ”Tälje kebab” that we will sing.”