Swedish Impact Being Felt In NAHL


Prior to 2012, USA Hockey rules limited NAHL rosters to two non US Citizens. Then on December 19 of that year the NAHL announced that the number would increase to four. There is an exception to the rule made for foreign born players who have developed through USA Hockey youth organization with the rule reading as follows;

A non US citizen must be a member of USA Hockey for three (3) consecutive seasons or more and residing in the US prior to requesting participation as a member of a USA Hockey junior team. If the player has played junior hockey outside of the US, in their home federation, the player would not be eligible for non-import status.

Therefore, players like Brahmas defenseman Alexey Solovyev who is a native of Moscow Russia, but played AAA for Dallas Alliance in 2010/11 and has been a member of USA Hockey for three consecutive years are granted waivers to non-import status and do not count against the four player limit.

At the end of the 2011/12 season there were a total of 37 foreign born players on the 25 US based NAHL rosters. As of the end of January 2015, there are 83 foreign born players in the NAHL. There is one country, Sweden, which has accounted for nearly 57% of the growth.

Under the previous rules only five Swedish born players were competing in the NAHL, there are now a total of 31. The next closest country is Canada at 13. Not only is one country a major portion of the growth, but one division, the NAHL South, is home to 15 Swedish born players nearly as many as the other three division combined. The Central Division rosters 8 Swedes while the Midwest Division has 6 and the North Division 2.

It does not take much digging to immediately see the impact that Swedish players have had on the league. While Swedish born players make up roughly 5.2% of the 600 or so players on active NAHL rosters, five of the top 55 NAHL scorers and four of the top 30 scoring defensemen are Swedes. This includes the Lone Star Brahmas’ Sebastian Vidmar, who leads the league in points, goals scored, +/- rating and game winning goals.

The league office, Easton Hockey and Vaughn Custom Sports have noticed the contributions as well honoring Swedish players multiple times in the NAHL Easton Forward of the Month, Defenseman of the Month and Vaughn Goalie of the Month which are league wide honors and as NAHL Easton Divisional Stars of the Week. Twice a Swedish player has been named Forward of the Month, once Defenseman of the Month and seven times Defenseman of the Month Honorable Mention. Once a Swedish netminder has been named Goalie of the Month Honorable Mention. In the Divisional Stars of the Week announcements, Swedish players have been First Star 10 times, Second Star four times and Third Star 14 times.

Of the 20 Swedish J20 SuperElit teams, 18 are currently represented in the NAHL including the Malmo Redhawks where the Brahmas’ Sebastian Vidmar and Ludvig Larsson both played. When reached for comment, Peter Enehag who holds a Masters in Sports Science and is the head coach at Malmo listed four reasons he believes Swedish players are coming to the US.

  • The Swedish University system’s focus is on individual not team sports.
  • There are only 2 professional levels above juniors in Sweden which are fully open to foreign born players making it difficult for young Swedes to break into the leagues.
  • Swedish players have seen the success of players coming from Sweden playing in the US and being drafted by the NHL.
  • Recently a scouting system was developed in Sweden by an American interest focused on moving Swedish players to the NCAA and US Juniors.

“So my answer on your question if there is a benefit for Swedish talents to move to US, it’s a yes,” said Enehag. “I think the most of them have a win – win situation, you can combine your ice hockey with studies in a way you can’t do in Sweden.”

While Enehag sees benefits for the Swedish players coming to the US, he believes it could harm Swedish hockey as a whole. ”It’s not good for the Swedish ice hockey from our third league (semi-professional) and down,” he said. “It means the ice hockey will stay put in the highest elite level, but our recruit system could be harmed in the long way.” However, he does see a potential benefit to Swedish players moving to the US and earning NCAA commitments if it forces the hand of Swedish Universities. “On the other hand if the word will spread about the benefits to combine academic education and elite sports, who knows?”

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Coach Enehag is not at all surprised by the success the Swedish players are having in the NAHL due to a program started by the Swedish Ice Hockey Assoc. eight years ago. Under the program elite level players started to practice much more and at a much higher level. “They are very well prepared physical and mental for playing elite hockey,” he explained. “Vidmar and Larsson I trained myself and both of them were in top 5 in their groups, and both of them have so called ‘hockey smartness’. I’m not surprised they are doing well at your side.”

While non US Citizens competing in the NAHL may prevent some US Citizens from playing in the league, it benefits the NAHL and USA Hockey as a whole. The presence of the foreign born players tends to elevate the level of competition in the NAHL which pushes American players to compete at a higher level. It also attracts more scouts to the league, the NAHL Showcase Tournament and Top Prospect Tournament. The increase in scouting increasing the league’s exposure, improves opportunities for American players to be noticed, improves the fan experience helping put more fans in the seats and drawing new players to the sport.

Swedish Born Skaters

NameTeamPrev TeamPosGPGAPTS
Victor OstlingAberdeenVasteras J20F30459
Kasper EmanuelssonAmarilloMora J20D2832023
Jesper SynneliusAmarilloRogle J20D3311112
Alexander PetterssonAustinFrolunda J20F3962531
Jakob KullbergAustinFrolunda J20F3010717
Oscar OddBrookingsFarjestad J20F4151419
Viktor LindellBrookingsFrolunda J20F4010616
Kristoffer BrunBrookingsAIK J20D37044
Jakob StridsbergFairbanksHV71 J20D4461925
Jesper OhrvallFairbanksHV71 J20F1216319
Robin KarlssonFairbanksAIK J20D3731215
Josef IngmanFairbanksMODO J20D16112
Adam WinborgJanesvilleAIK J18F39202444
Nils RygaardJanesvilleLinkoping J20F4210616
Gustav BerglundKenai RiverVaxjo J20D4431619
Sebastian VidmarLone StarMalmo J20F38243559
Ludvig LarssonLone StarMalmo J20F32152237
Oskar AndrenLone StarDjurgarden J20F31121729
Anton SantessonLone StarRogle J20D3541418
Johan SteenLone StarD3831215
Rasmus SorgardtMinotAIK J20D371910
Tim AthleyMinotVisby/Roma J20F40358
Razmuz Waxin-EngbackOdessaNynashamns IF J20F43161935
Hampus SjodahlOdessaVarmdo HC J20F3913922
Andreas SojeOdessaVasteras J20D30156
Elliot LorraineRio GrandeAlmtuna J20F6055
Daniel NilssonRio GrandeOrebro J20D10314
Tobias BjorklundWildernessFarjestad J20D2641115

Swedish Born Goalies

Benjamin JohanssonRio GrandeAlmtuna J20G227832.870.884
Anton MartinssonAmarilloRogle J20G2610903.390.901
Robin JohanssonOdessaTroja-Ljungby J20G2551124.360.870