LEKSAND, SMALL PLACE - BIG GAME
The story of Leksand's IF Ishockey - now
playing the 53rd year in the highest Swedish hockey league!
(updated in August 2003)
The ice-hockey club of Leksand is a phenomenon with no parallel in Swedish sports. The small community with the big team which has become the most popular ice-hockey club in Sweden. LIF (short form of "Leksand's Idrottsförening Ishockey" - the official name) was the club with most seasons consecutively in the highest division - 1951 - 2001. This is almost a miracle considering that central Leksand only has about 6,000 inhabitants and the whole community only 15,300.
In April 2001 the succession was broken when the team failed to qualify for the 2001/02 Elite League. But 363 days later, Leksand managed to qualify for the 2002/03 Elite League. Leksand was back!
So how could the phenomenon of Leksand be explained?
Let's face it at once: sometimes you talk about the culture of sports and also hockey culture, but in Leksand ice-hockey itself is part of society's culture. The long suite in the limelight of hockey has turned into a tradition worth preserving. A survey from 1997 showed that nine out of ten Swedes associate the name "Leksand" with ice-hockey!
Leksand's Idrottsförening was founded in 1919, at a time when the foundation of sport clubs increased in the region of Dalarna, where Leksand is situated. In 1937 ice-hockey was introduced when one of the members was sent to an introductory course on ice-hockey, with the purpose of bringing his experiences home to Leksand. The first ice-hockey game was played January 16th, 1938. Leksand scored 11-0 against the arch-enemy Mora, which already had played hockey for some years... The success had started!
In 1948/49 Leksand played for the first time in the highest division. This only lasted one season, but after just two years Leksand was back in the elite again. In the 50s Leksand was established among the top hockey clubs in Sweden. Leksand's IF has, so far, won the national championships four times: 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1975. Results from recent years: In 1989 Leksand was runner-up in the play-off finals and both in 1994 and 1997 the club won the Elite League of Sweden. In fact, Leksand made it to the play-offs eight years during the nineties. But in the 21st century the lucky days ended, but as stated: It was only temporarily. Now "the Stars" are back!
The magnificient years of success in the 60s and 70s made Leksand very popular all over Sweden. Today the club has more than 9,000 members. With the five fan clubs included there are more than 13,000 registered paying members supporting Leksand! Leksand is also one of the most popular club while playing away in the league and also when ice-hockey is broadcast in Swedish TV.
The team is also called "Leksand Stars", because "stars have always been printed on, and playing in the team's jersey". (At least since 1947.) The traditional and genuine white/blue jerseys are still decorating the Leksand players.
Björn Doverskog was the managing director of the club 1986-1998. During this time the turnover of the club increased tenfold. From 1994 until his death in December 1998 Björn Doverskog was also the chairman of the board. In March 1999 Leksand presented a new chairman of the board: Nils-Erik Johansson (who until his retirement in 1999 was managing director of one of the major chains of grocery stores in Sweden).
In June 1999 also a new managing director of Leksand's IF Ishockey was presented: Former top player Jonas Bergqvist!
In 1979, 16 years old, Jonas Bergqvist came from Rögle, a club in the south of Sweden. Except for three years abroad (in Calgary Flames 1989/90 in the NHL, Mannheim of Germany 1990/91 and Feldkirch of Austria 1998/99) he has always played for Leksand. Jonas is the Swedish player with most games played on the Swedish national team: 272. He is a three time world champion and one time olympic champion! During the years 1993-1998 he was also the marketing manager of Leksand's IF.
In June 2002 the Swedish Hockey Association announced that they wanted Jonas Bergqvist as the General Manager for the Swedish National Team. A really flattering offer, of course. But Jonas turned the offer down and decided to stay in Leksand.
What makes the ice-hockey of Leksand so successful? Jonas Bergqvist mentions reasons like the small place, the solidarity and unity of the club.
"Players who feel for their club work harder", he says and goes on explaining: "The most important isn't what's printed on the back of the club's jersey - it's what's printed in the front that matters!" That is: It is not the number and the name of the player that is important, it is the logo of the club that matters!
Jonas also emphasizes the club's idealistic basis: trainers and parents working with hockey-loving youngsters. Today more than 350 youngsters play in different youth and junior teams of Leksand. Many of the trainers are famous players from the past. Since 1999 the club also has a woman hockey team.
Nils-Erik Johansson, chairman of the board, comments his work today:
"Being chairman of the board turned out to hold a lot more work than I had expected. On the other hand, it has been a very nice job. It has been the most fun I've had in a long time. That's because there are so many things in this club which work so fine. And all of it can be developped a lot more too."
"That Jonas Bergqvist joined as managing director has of course been a strength both for me and the club", Nils-Erik Johansson says. "Now we have a working organization, competent all over. Leksand's IF Ishockey is a big "company" in the community of Leksand and it is important that we all do understand that. And that we also realize the value we represent both to the community and to the region. And I strongly feel the growing feeling and sympathy for Leksand's IF Ishockey. People enjoy hockey and Leksand!"
The idealistic club has turned into a professionally run company, in fact, one of the biggest in the small community. In the office facilities at the "Ice-Stadium" about ten employees work. In addition to these people, there are of course all the players, coaches and so on. The club has about 700 sponsors, the "Star Partners". Most of the companies (big companies as well as the small local "one man firms") are found in the region of Dalarna, with the twin cities of Falun and Borlänge, which also provide a huge part of the spectators (going by car or bus the 50 kilometers to Leksand) to the games.
Since 1973 the main sponsor has been world-wide STORAENSO, originated in Falun. But in 1999 they decided to withdraw some of its resources from the club. The result was to be a new group of eleven major sponsors called "Guldlaget" - The Gold Team - since the purpose is to help Leksand to a Swedish Championship-win. All the eleven companies are situated or originated from the region of Dalarna. The governor of Dalarna has also expressed his blessings for this unique cooperation. Thanks to "Guldlaget" the main sponsor financial support was doubled. This will maintain the stability of the club.
The turnover of the club 2002/03 was about SEK 39,000,000 and the revenue about SEK 1,800,000. Recent years' tax problem for the club is finally cleared and the club has no more debts. Both players, managing director and employees cut their wages in 2001to help get the club back to the Elite League.
Major incomes derive from sponsors, tickets and souvenirs. Another secure source of income is the Leksand/JOFA summer hockey school, which every year attracts more than 1,200 youngsters from all over the world to Leksand. There are many international stars who went to Leksand for the first time as pupils of the summer hockey school. In "Leksand Stars" of today, almost half the team started out as kids in the Leksand summer hockey school.
As of today the club also runs a 100 % owned joint stock company, "Leksands IF Conference and Sales Ltd", which runs restaurant/conferences, the souvenir shop "Star Shop" in central Leksand and the mail-order souvenir shop. The club itself, "Leksands IF Ishockey", runs the ice-hockey team, the youth and junior teams and the summer hockey school.
The fans at the stands, the members of the "nice" fan club called "Leksand Superstars", support the team on the ice. In 1997/98 they were voted as the best fan club by the Swedish fan clubs and the referees! During the last years big news papers in Sweden have chosen them as the number 1 hockey fans of Sweden. There are also cheerleaders in the arena - "the Star Babes"!
But some time ago it was different. One of the players from the past was the defenseman Vilgot Larsson who played for Leksand 1949-1964. By the way, his best memory from the rink is the gold medal won at the World championship in Moscow in 1957.
"We were the underdogs before the tournament and nobody thought that we could win. So it was pretty sensational when we did. In Moscow too!"
Vilgot became extra famous in Sweden when he saved the gold by heading (!) the puck against the Czechs. No helmets were used back then, so a couple of stiches were needed for Vilgot.
But why was Leksand so successful? Vilgot tells us:
"We were a closely united team, guys of the same age who played together for so long that we were established in the top. In the 60s new players joined. The club has been successful in renewing the team, first by local guys and then recruiting players from other places. Early, Leksand also got good coaches."
True, in fact already in the 60s Leksand engaged coaches both from Canada (Des Moroney) and Czechoslovakia (Vladimir Zabrodsky).
2001/02, for the first time ever, Leksand didn't play in the Elitserien (which started in 1975).
The club, the community and the fans all over the country were in shock. But immediately after the failure in the last qualification round, both people and companies contacted the Stars' office. They asked how they could help Leksand back to the Elite League. That so many people wanted to help was of course pleasant news to the management and the board of the club. This lead to an appeal - Dalauppropet - the Dalecarlian Appeal. The goal was to raise more money to the club during the summer and fall of 2001, which would help the club back to the Elite League.
The Dalecarlian Appeal was to be the solution. The purpose was to enroll new supporters/members and also to get more companies sponsoring the club. Raising money had been done before in the small club of Leksand. That way the artifial rink was bulit in 1956 and also the indoor arena in 1965.
But the difference now in 2001 was that time was scarce. But the club at once ensured that it had some big partners for the campaign: Papers, radio, TV, a printing house and an advertising agency.
It turned out to be one of the biggest advertising campaigns done by a Swedish club. In the ads famous supporters and famous Swedes (including singers, TV-stars, ministers, hockey and other sport stars) said they had "signed for Leksand" appealing to others to do the same.
At the end of the summer the club had got more than 2.000 new supporting members and 700 new companies answered to the appeal by becoming minor sponsors, buying tickets and so on. Even the fans of the worst competitor, the hockey club of Brynäs, became a small sponsor of Leksand! Their explanation was: "The best thing in life is when Brynäs beats Leksand, but then we have to play in the same league!"
The Appeal was a true success and the support was huge. Then, in the 2002 qualification series, Leksand was one of six clubs trying to qualify to get back. And Leksand did it! Especially two memorable wins against AIK of Stockholm (2-0 away and 6-0 home) meant that Leksand on April 12 2002 was back in the Swedish Elite League. Thousands of fans were truly happy!
Even the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson then visited the Leksand Stars!
In January 2000 Anders Carlsson was the first player to have played in the Swedish Elite League during four decades, since he made his debut in the late 70s. He played for Leksand 1995-2001.
Now Anders Carlsson is the sport's director and has put together a new team. The intention is that Leksand will stay in the top of the league in the future. That's why a new campaign has started, called "Guldjakten" - The hunt for Gold.
The new coach in 2001 was the Finn Jarmo Tolvanen, the first Finnish coach in Leksand. He has a lot of experience from several European Leagues and managed to take Leksand back to the Elite League. As assistant coach he has former Leksand player Ulf Skoglund.
To further show the importance of hockey to Leksand we finally quote the president of the famous baking company Leksandsbröd (Leksand's Bread), Mr Rune Joon: "Ice hockey is to Leksand what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris!"
FACTS AND FIGURES
Not everyone knows that:
- 2003/04 will be the 53rd season in the highest league for Leksand!
- the indoor arena of Leksand was the eighth in Sweden when it was built in 1965. The artificial ice rink had opened nine years earlier, in 1956. The capacity today is 6,300 spectators.
- the official record is 12,719 spectators against Brynäs in 1964 (outdoors).
- Åke Lassas was the first player of the club playing in the national team of Sweden, in 1949. In the 1952 winter olympics of Oslo he won the first olympic medal of the club: a bronze medal.
- after the olympic gold for Sweden in Lillehammer 1994, Leksand was called the "Gold village", since five players from Leksand played on the Swedish national team: Tomas Jonsson, Jonas Bergqvist, Magnus Svensson, Roger Johansson and Niklas Eriksson. And in the Canadian runner-up team Greg Parks played. In the US team we found Peter Ciavaglia. In total seven Leksand players participated in the hockey tournament of Lillehammer!
- the following players have been world champions while playing for Leksand: Sigurd Bröms (1953 and 1957), Vilgot Larsson (1957), Magnus Svensson (1987), Jonas Bergqvist (1987, 1991 and 1998), Tomas Jonsson (1991) and Johan Hedberg (1998).
- the following world champions have also been representing Leksand during their careers: Nils Nilsson (1962), Åke Lilljebjörn (1987), Anders Carlsson (1987 and 1991), Kjell Samuelsson (1991), Per-Erik Eklund (1991), Peter Åslin (1992), Christer Olsson (1998) and Tommy Westlund (1998).
- the following players have played in Leksand and also in the NHL: Thommy Abrahamsson, Jergus Baca, Mike Bales, Stefan Bergkvist, Jonas Bergqvist, Per-Olov Brasar, Greg Brown, Robert Burakovsky, Anders Carlsson, Peter Ciavaglia, Per-Erik Eklund, Kari Eloranta, Roland Eriksson, Tomas Forslund, Sean Gauthier, Chris Govedaris, Johan Hedberg, Göran Högosta, Victor Ignatiev, Roger Johansson, Tomas Jonsson, Hannu Järvenpää, Andreas Karlsson, Richard Kromm, Dan Labraaten, Bengt Lundholm, Christer Olsson, Greg Parks, Ricard Persson, Kjell Samuelsson, Ulf Samuelsson, Andy Schneider, Lars-Erik Sjöberg, Tomas Srsen, Mike Stapleton, Thomas Steen, Magnus Svensson, Tommy Westlund and Johan Witehall.
- the following Stanley Cup winners have been representing Leksand: Tomas Jonsson played for New York Islanders in 1982 and 1983, Ulf Samuelsson for Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992 and Kjell Samuelsson for Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.
© August 2003 Lars Ingels & Leksands IF Ishockey