It took them just 14 years to power through all the stages of the Swedish hockey system. Now they are firmly established as one of the top teams in the SHL, well, if we ignore last year’s results. But who are they? To help the readers of ABNT, I got some help from Jonas – a real-life Växjö fan.
Växjö is a young team, founded in 1997 after the folding of Växjö HC. They started all over, in what was the fifth tier of Swedish hockey. This team, from a southern region filled with lakes, had their eyes set on the top. After just six years they were very close, after reaching all the way to the second tier Allsvenskan.
A Proud City
Hockey has always been a popular sport in Växjö. But according to Jonas, it has never been more popular than now. If you find yourself in Växjö on a game day, you can be sure of seeing their orange-blue-white flag everywhere. Not only are shops supporting their team, if you eavesdrop you can hear people chatting about the event of the day.
The city itself is not big by international standards. But all of them (about 70,000 inhabitants) are certainly aware of the team’s success. Due to the rapid advancement of the team, it is commonly seen as a non-organic team. This seems to not be a concern for the locals. When asked Jonas characterized the typical Växjö supporter as “A regular person, typical smålänning [local], always happy, never hateful”.
Making the Old Weakness the New Strength
Växjö is a team that is not only working hard in the stands, they are also very hard working on the ice. If you appreciate a sound defensive and structured game, then Växjö is the team for you. The goal for every game and every season is to win. Last season was a disappointment, but fans of Växjö have all reason to be hopeful again. The main issue last season was with the centers. The board solved this by recruiting some of the best centers on the market. Last season’s weakness, is now one of the team’s strengths.
Even if the strategy of the team might be to outplay the opposing team, Växjö is not lacking character. The fan-favourite Brendan Shinnimin is, in the words of Jonas, “the Brad Marchand of the SHL”. He can score, agitate, and get the team going with his endless energy. Guarding the net is Viktor Fasth, one of the best goalies in the league. The veteran from the 2018 Olympics could very well earn more money in the KHL but chose to stay at Växjö instead.
If there is anyone in Växjö who is regarded better by their own fans, it’s the coach Sam Hallam. The well-oiled machine that is Växjö Lakers is largely a product of his coaching philosophy. A defensive mind with a focus on puck control and pressuring the opponents all over the ice. This is actually not too different from how many teams play – Växjö just does it better. Sam Hallam himself has a slightly different story from the average coach. Due to back injuries, he was forced to give up on his playing career at the age of 24. He took up coaching almost immediately with the Allsvenskan team of Bofors IK. There he made his name by consistently beating teams which on paper were far better. Växjö scooped him up, and since then have won two Swedish Championship titles. Nobody would be surprised if this happened again soon.
The Fans Are Proud, and Loud
If you have ever watched Swedish ice hockey, you might have noticed that people in the stands are singing to support their team. Much like in European sports overall. The battle is not only on the ice – but also between the fans. It’s the duty of fans to contribute to the psychological aspects of the game and to be louder than the opposing team’s fans. It’s a duty that is not taken lightly. The Växjö crowd are using both easy and complicated chants. Courtesy of their supporter group, Lakers Lakejer, here is one of the most common ones with a translation:
Vi är Lakers
Vi är Växjö Lakers
Slutar aldrig kämpa
Sjunger för vårt VLH
We are Lakers
We are Växjö Lakers
Never stops fighting
Singing for our VLH
If you are wondering when I will finally get to the superstar player Elias Pettersson, then you are reading the wrong article. Växjö is of course very proud of their star who brought them gold in 2018. But Växjö is more than one player. It’s a city, which is very proud of its hockey.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Växjö Lakers/Getty Images)