Last night, one of the most storied clubs in Swedish hockey was relegated in dramatic fashion: on a game seven overtime winner from Leksands IF's Brock Montpetit.
Since the Swedish top division was created in 1975 (the SHL, formerly Elitserien), Modo has been relegated just once, in 1983, and has won the Le Mat Trophy twice, in 1979 and 2007.
It has developed such famous players as Anders Hedberg, Peter Forsberg, Markus Näslund, Victor Hedman, and Danieland Henrik Sedin just to mention a few. Mats Zuccarello chose Modo when he left his native Norway as a stop to prepare him for the NHL. In October of 2015, when The Hockey News ranked the top ten clubs in Europe in regard to the talent they had exported to the NHL, Modo ranked fifth as the top Swedish club. It was a fantastic achievement for Örnsköldsvik, a municipality in the north of Sweden with 55.000 inhabitants.
It was one of the first locations where there was a hockey program at the local high school. It was a trailblazer for women's ice hockey in Sweden, and in many other ways, making it the Swedish Hockey Town. It is often joked that Slapshot is the most watched movie in town.
The problems started a few years ago when the current powerhouses of Skellefteå and Frölunda used Modo as a source of inspiration on how to structure their own youth programs. For Skellefteå, that meant creating direct competition with Modo for local talent, as the cities are just 250 kilometres apart. As Skellefteå gained traction and success, Modo switched to an alternate strategy.
In the team's case, that meant looking toward North American talent to fill out its roster, something that came naturally with Näslund and Forsberg taking a big interest in the team after finishing their playing careers.
Last season Modo ended up in the relegation series, with Donald Brashear added to the team mid-season. They hung on to their spot in the top grouping with a 4-0 series win against Vita Hästen.
This year, the North American approach was expanded when Canadian Larry Huras was brought in as head coach, along with eight North American players. Huras attempted to use a man-to-man defensive setup, and this was not successful. In November, with Modo second to last in the standings, he was fired, and Swedish replacement coaches wee brought in. The changes had little effect, and the club had to make a desperate plea to get people to attend the games as the season wore on.
Modo finished 13th in the league and faced a tough battle from another classic team in the relegation/promotion series: a best-of-seven series between the top team from second-tier Allsvenskan and the bottom team from the SHL. Modo was up 3-1 with ten minutes to go at home in the seventh game, but Leksand managed to equalize with 52 seconds to go, and completed the comeback less than six minutes into overtime.
What are the consequences for Modo?
There is a lot of speculation about what will happen with Modo after being relegated. The municipality is small and there are not that many sponsors available. Clubs are not privately owned in Sweden, so a consortium of former players (both active and retired) can't go in and buy the club and allocate funds like in many European football leagues.
After last year's relegation battle, Charlotte Gustavsson, the CEO of the club, said:
"It would have been a catastrophe [to get relegated]. We would have had to cut back on so many things because we don't have our own capital. Leksand said they 'would build for the long term.' There is no way we could have done that in Modo. We don't have that capital, we would have had to start by cutting the women's team [one of the most storied teams in Swedish women's hockey], the hockey program at the local high school, and much, much more. We would have had to think very short term [in order to quickly return to the SHL]. If we were to be in Allsvenskan for more than a year, we would have had to go to the council and return the keys."
This is how extreme the situation is for Modo. They will get a portion of the SHL TV deal as a parachute payment to help them transition to the lower ranks, but that overtime goal makes a difference of about USD $5.5 million; about 50% of the normal turnover for the club while it was in the SHL.
Players whose contracts are set to expire will be gone, and a lot of talent is already being pursued by Skellefteå, Djurgården, and Frölunda, among others. Staff at the office might not have jobs come June, as there need to be savings anywhere, and everywhere. I have already mentioned the quote that points to the women's team, and the program at the high school.
The chance of putting all the eggs in one basket in order to return to SHL as soon as possible has caused problems for teams before. Leksand, as a matter of fact, is one such team.
Gustavsson has already confirmed she would resign from the position as CEO for the club. The team has made a small profit the last two years, but on the sport side, the huge loss really came last night, and nothing can cover that at the moment.
In today's Aftonbladet, the chairman of Modo, Tomas Byberg, says the team will return to its roots. "It is time to realize that we have done something wrong. We have had to go through the promotion/relegation series the last two years. We will go back and promote youth players from within, and continue developing players with a local connection. This is a place where your neighbour's kid should play."
It will be a long road back for Modo as they attempt to recover from this major setback, and try to restore their stature of one of the hockey world's premier developmental organizations.