Sweden's Johan Garpenlov, who won Worlds gold in 1991 and 1992 as a player, wants to add a second straight title as an assistant coach in Denmark in May. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Swedish assistant talks Worlds, Olympics, NHL
Johan Garpenlov has known both triumph and heartbreak in his hockey career. He hopes to celebrate a second straight IIHF World Championship gold in Denmark.
The 50-year-old veteran of 606 NHL games currently serves as an assistant coach under Rikard Gronborg with the Swedish national team, focusing on the offensive side of the game. Garpenlov, who won Worlds gold in 1991 and 1992, hasn’t had time to sit around and mope after Tre Kronor shockingly lost its Olympic quarter-final to underdog Germany in February. Instead, the former Djurgarden winger is scouting NHL teams across North America, trying to build a Worlds roster as stacked as the one that took gold in Cologne last year.
Garpenlov is keenly aware of how narrow the margin between victory and defeat can be in this sport. As a player, the Stockholm native caught some tough breaks in overtime games that his teams lost. With the San Jose Sharks, he famously hit the cross bar in the 1994 Western Conference semi-final versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, and, with Sweden, the post in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey semi-final against Canada. So now, he wants to leave as little as possible to chance.
We caught up with Garpenlov in Vancouver recently.
When you come to an NHL game, do you focus more on seeing who’s playing well or on having conversations with the guys afterwards?
It’s both, I think. You want to see how they’re playing and what kind of roles they have on the team, and then just talk to them and see if they don’t have any injuries and all that. And then you gauge their interest for playing for us in Copenhagen. There are lots of things you talk to them about.
What made Sweden’s 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship team successful?
Well, all the guys over here came and wanted to play for us. We had a really good team. Our defence was great, and then the late additions with Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist made our team much, much better too. So it was a combination of great players from over here and them wanting to come over and play for their country.
Looking back, how do you feel about the way Sweden performed in PyeongChang?
We thought we played really well, especially in the last game against Finland in the group. Then against Germany, we started out really well the first 13, 14 minutes. Then we took two bad penalties and they scored on one of them. Then 30 seconds they scored again, and we kind of fell into a panic mode. We couldn’t focus on our game. It took us one period to come together and start playing the way we wanted to play. And then in the third period, we played really well, I thought.
When it came to overtime and you’re playing a pretty good team like Germany was – a really good team, actually: they almost won [the tournament] – it was just one bad break and they scored the goal. And then the Olympic Games are over. It was a tough ending for us, but then again, we lost to a really good team. We played them in the group and we beat them 1-0, and we had to work hard for that.
What can you say about the way Marco Sturm brought that German team together?
I think we played pretty much the same team at the World Championship in Germany, and we had a tough time to beat them even with all our players from over here. Then again, they’re structured. They play together. They pretty much have the same team every World Championship. So they are tough to beat. When we don’t have our best players, everything evens out, so we have to play a really good game to beat them.
Rasmus Dahlin played a total of 7:35 in two games at the Olympics. How do you feel about the way he handled it as a 17-year-old?
I thought Rasmus handled it really well. Obviously he wanted to play more. All the players want to play more. He’s still young. He has a future in front of him. We had a plan for him but it didn’t work out, because the games were so tight. So we couldn’t get him in there and play him the way we wanted him to play and get him the ice time we wanted him to get.
But he never complained. It was a good experience for him to be in that tournament. He’s going to be a really, really good player.
Who are some other Swedish Olympic rookies that stood out for you?
Mikael Wikstrand was playing really well for us. He was a little surprise for us. We knew he was a good player and he played good in the Swedish league, but he took his game and played well in the Olympic Games. Patrick Zackrisson had a really good tournament, and so did Simon Bertilsson. I think we’re going to see more of him in the future.
What was your reaction when Swedish World Junior captain Lias Andersson threw his silver medal into the stands in Buffalo?
[laughs] Well, actually, I didn’t see that game. I just heard about it. He was disappointed, and he did something that I wouldn’t do. Then again, he got the medal back, so that was good. When you lose that type of game, sometimes you do stuff that you maybe don’t want to do. He’s still young. He’s learning. I think he’s going to do something different next time.
Let’s talk about your playing career. You suited up for four NHL clubs, including Detroit, Florida, San Jose and Atlanta. Which of them have you stayed closest to?
I’d say Florida. Even though they’ve changed management and ownership many times, that’s the team I’ve been close with. Actually, I go to San Jose for the first time since I left there while I was playing over here. It’s going to be fun to go there and see some friends there.
What’s your favourite memory of joining Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov on a line with the Sharks?
Just playing with them. They were my idols when I was growing up. Then I got the chance to play with them for almost a year. That is something I will remember the rest of my life.
Do you own any plastic rats from your run with Florida to the 1996 Stanley Cup final?
[laughs] Actually, I have one at home! But I don’t know where it is right now.
The Florida fans embraced the rat-throwing tradition after Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his stick in the dressing room and then scored twice in your home opener that season. Were you sad when the NHL banned it?
I understand why. Then again, that year was special and it was lots of fun when they started doing it. I think it still lives a little bit. In the playoffs they start to throw rats, but not as many as they used to.
What do you remember about the two World Championship gold medals you won in 1991 and 1992?
The first one in Abo [Turku] in Finland, we had a really good team there with lots of older players that played and some younger ones too. The second one in Prague was really fun. We had a young team with lots of rookies, like Peter Forsberg. Mats Sundin and Michael Nylander. So there were lots of young, good players for that team.
Two different tournaments. In Abo, I don’t think we lost a game there. In Prague, we had a tough start to the tournament, and then we turned it around and won. But both were gold.
Sweden has produced some classic World Championship theme songs, including Nu Tar Vi Dom (1989), Den Glider In (1995) and En For All For En (2013). Which is your favourite?
En For Alla For En. Definitely. We’ve had some different songs, but that one is good.
How do you like Sweden’s chances of repeating as World Champions in Denmark?
I’m optimistic. If we can get some good players from here to come over and play for us, then we have a chance to win it all.