With about 30% of the players in the NHL coming from abroad, mainly the big five of Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden, with a few novel countries like Australia, Latvia, Netherlands, and Slovenia with a single player in the 2018 season, the hockey world is opening up.
Yet the coaching role is still a North American position, as is the role of the general manager, as only three Europeans have held roles in those positions: the current GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jarmo Kekäläinen (since 2013), and coaches Ivan Hlinka (with the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2000-2002) and Alpo Suhonen (Chicago Blackhawks 2000-2001).
With an increase in foreign players, you would expect there to be an interest in the coaches who prepared them to play in the NHL. Some of the coaches in Europe should, for obvious reasons, be on an NHL general manager’s radar because of their success at a high level and their ability to work well with top talent.
None exemplifies this more than the young coach of the Växjö Lakers, Mr. Sam Hallam. At the age of 38, Hallam has taken a team that was promoted to the SHL for the first time in 2011 to two Le Mat Trophy wins (2015 and 2018) and claimed two Coach of the Year awards (2017 and 2018) in the same timeframe. Växjö has stood by a young coach and his new ideas, and have become a model club and a powerhouse in the SHL in the process.
Hallam started his coaching career in HockeyAllsvenskan with Bofors IK, and was offered an assistant coach role with Växjö for the 2012-13 season. He was made head coach within a few months of the season’s start, and the rest has become legend within the vast forests of Småland county.
In speaking with the top coach in Sweden, we get an honest conversation where Mr. Hallam details what “character” really is, how his staff takes advantage of advanced stats and analytics to speak with players, and how the same statistics can help a team in different situations. He explains his thought process in regard to coaching and how he sees his role in the ever-evolving landscape of coaching, including where he looks for inspiration outside the world of hockey.
We get a rare insight into the mind of a hockey coach that is at the top of the game in one of the best leagues in the world. Coach Hallam could, and should, be one of the coaches that open the debate about a European coach’s chance to once more helm a team in the NHL.
Be sure to download the podcast to listen to it at your convenience.