H is for Hockey

H is for hockey, which in Sweden means ice hockey, the national sport, which makes sense in a country where temperatures are below freezing for so much of the year.

Hockey wasn’t invented here, although you wouldn’t know it. There was a Swedish team in the 1920 Olympics, but it was made up of Swedes who had played ice hockey in Europe and players from the related sport bandy, which involves people hitting a ball with sticks while skating around frozen soccer fields.

The first hockey game on Swedish ice was played in 1921. Initially the sport was concentrated in the Stockholm region, but at the end of 1940’s ice hockey spread to the whole country.

Something like 63,000 Swedes play ice hockey, of which 43,000 are kids and teens.

Professionally, there are 12 teams in the Elite division, 16 teams at the next highest level, with four lower divisions, and innumerable junior levels. The national team, called Tre kronor, which means Three crowns, has won the world championships 8 times, and taken Olympic gold twice.

The first organized women’s ice hockey here started at the end of the 60’s, and the Swedish women won the European championship in 1996.

In fact, ice hockey players seem to be one of Sweden’s most prominent exports. There are currently more than 50 Swedes playing in the National Hockey League.