National media informed that HC “Donbass” Academy will be lead by a famous specialist - Jim Brithén. When he arrived in Donetsk in the end of 2011 he thoroughly made an analyze and then he presented his plans for the Hockey Academy and Youth hockey to the Club management. Nowadays Mr. Brithén spend almost all the time with the kids- and the Academy Team of hockey players, studying the peculiarities of Ukrainian ice hockey in practice, having joined activities of HC “Donbass” daily. Small hockey players have already started to get used to his voice and recommendations during practices on and off the ice. Trying to find out more about well-known specialist, HC press-service journalists spent two hours having a fruitful dialogue with Mr. Brithén, but even that seemed to be not enough for covering all the aspects of his activities. Certainly there will be more interesting dialogues about ice hockey itself and Academy in particularly, but for then beginning, for acquaintance, let’s have a cup of coffee….
- I would like to specify the date of agreement signing with HC “Donbass”. – Mr. Brithén started our discussion. - It is important because I have started to fulfill my responsibilities since the 1st of February 2012. Before that I was here as an adviser. We analyzed how to build up our structure for the future, what areas of common interest we could find, changed our opinions and came up to common agreement.
- In order to get acquainted with our fans, citizens who will soon take their kids to you and for all hockey lovers in Ukraine, tell us something about you.
- Let’s make a long story short. I was born in a family of ice hockey traditions. My father was a chairman of a Swedish Ice Hockey Club – Rögle BK. I played until the age of 29. After that I continued to work in the ice hockey sphere, but in another role. Soon I entered the University of Physical Education in Stockholm. There was a specific Ice Hockey program, only 20-25 people has passed it in Sweden. Especially for this the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation search for and recruits coaches that they believe in. These coaches get the highest level of education. For example Thomas Gradin and Anders Hedberg has been graduated from this Academy. They both work for NHL clubs now. Among the graduates there are also the Sweden national team Head Coach Pär Mårts and Denmarks Head Coach Per Bäckman. And these are only some of 25 specialists. We had to plan our work on coaching education in Sweden and determine directions for development for our ice hockey. We were founders-methodologists for the national hockey. During these years I was a Club coach, National team coach, Chief manager in Teams and Clubs at all levels in Sweden. But I never forgot about practice process itself and occasionally returned to it. I feel like a coach inside.
Between 1996 and 2001 I was the Head of Denmarks National Team, and at the same time I was Development director for the Federation. Well, in 2002 I worked as Head Coach in the Swedish Top Club “Modo”. We reached the final in The National Championship and won the Silver Medal. Before the next season we lost 12 players and we had to build new team. By that time many players went to NHL and other countries. The management of the club didn’t have patience; we had the 8th place among 12 teams when they decided to change Head Coach. It threw me off the stride. Since that time I worked more often on the ice hockey development, but sometimes - as I still have the passion - I return to practice. Every now and then different Clubs invite me in order to give their clubs “new life”.
I always want to find challenging work for myself. For example I was the Organizing Director of The World U-18 Championship 2006 that was played in Sweden. In 2008 I was The Head Coach for the Swedish U-16 National Team (born 1992). By the fact, this were the players who won the U-20 World Championship now in 2012. I was also at the position “Development Coach” in the team “Red Bull” in Salzburg, Austria. Due to this I coached the Swedish national team only for a year, because of the certain conditions that were put in front of me. I was demanded to work in Sweden if I wanted to continue working with the national team. This was in 2007-2008. I was only working part-time there, although they wanted to offer me a full-time contract. I did not want to do that because my kids were far from me. So I took a chance to take over as Head Coach for the Swedish Elite Team Södertälje SK. But the results there did not work out as we wanted. So the work I had - before moving to Ukraine – was as Director of Youth Hockey and Development in Linköping Hockey Club, Sweden.
- But why do you prefer Youth hockey instead of working with grown players?
- Every person at the definite stage of life understands what he can do in the best way. I have understood that I work very well in the Development area. I could remain being Coach of a team, but on the other hand there are some limiting factors. Always being “on the road”: hotels, flights, buses in the course of time gets harder and harder for everybody. You never know what will be in future, not because of the performed work, but due to quick flash results and judgements from other people, that many times have limited knowledge of Ice Hockey. I still can take any club and be a Coach, but I haven’t had any offers from the clubs I wanted to work for. Instead I have started to take other challenges. I have travelled a lot around the world, working as Instructor for the International Ice Hockey Federation. I have had very interesting missions for the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation, for which I wrote two chapters of Offensive Tactics and Team Tactics including Methodology. We have worked a lot with the Ice Hockey Development in our country. I am pleased that I have an opportunity to choose, moreover, to choose a work not only that I can deal with, but for which I contribute much. Previous work in Linkoping was very good and nice. Nowadays it is among the best Youth- and Junior Hockey Clubs in Sweden, but it was calm and “safe” which wasn’t the challenge I am looking for in my life. Besides I see this kind of challenge here. I want to help Ukrainian ice hockey to restore and develop. That is a big challenge. My children are adults and they have moved out from home so my wife and I have decided that we can take this challenge and stay here for a period of time. I am bound to attach my knowledge and experience, I am willing to work hard and to do the necessary things that must be done for reaching the goals that have been told to me.
- You have mentioned the Ukrainian ice hockey. It is all about HC Donbass, isn’t it?
- You are perfectly aware that our clubs ambitions are great concerning ice hockey development. These are not only highly-sounding words. It is planned to set up a Great Ice Hockey Academy in Donbass. Working hard in Donetsk, anyway we will contribute to ice hockey development in Ukraine. You know our club is ambitious concerning the KHL, and in perspective – MHL. I think there will be a couple of teams in the Academy; a lot of great job is waiting for us.
- You worked with the clubs of forming structure of young hockey players’ development. In Donetsk it will be you to form this structure. Are you ready to take this challenge?
- Of course I am. As far as I know and can see there are no limits in how far we can develop. I am open to cooperation with everybody who is involved in hockey. I am ready to work starting with structure and players’ ice hockey education and everybody who work for our Club and Academy. Otherwise I wouldn’t be employed. I have made the structure which I am going to present to the management. Many discussions and some corrections will of course be made but I have already a vision how it should be and I think it does work here. It will be a great challenge.
- How did you view our junior hockey at the beginning?
- The first impressions: much work, many corrections. You cannot blame the children if they can’t handle things. First of all it is up to the Coach and the staff. We are speaking about conceptual factors, coach community. I consider working with young tutors to be the key factor. Each coach has his potential. I try to contribute the knowledge which were not accessible or adopted due to some reasons. There will always be a “Domino effect”. The more and better we prepare and educate the coaches here, the better the players will be in the future.
- How do you view ideally the structure of the Youth hockey in HC “Donbass”? Will it be a Swedish model?
- The most significant is to combine the best that we have in the East and in the West. Obviously we should refer to the fact that I am Swedish. I am close to a philosophy which was based in Swedish manner. The more time I spend here, the more I understand the differences. But I also start to understand the roots of it. It would fit our system. Recently as you know I have been to Magnitogorsk, Russia, where I met with a lot of Head Coaches of the MHL teams. They were open to the discussion and listened with a great interest to everything I told them. They were interested and asked me: “What are the special things which you do in Sweden that makes you win against us, although the country in terms of number of population and square is smaller?” Obviously I will have to contribute a part of Swedish philosophy into the Academy.
- Point out the fundamental aspects of this philosophy…
- Coming to a new country you can’t make a model only from one of the Russian, Swedish or Canadian philosophy. “When you are in Rome do as Romans do and go from there”. I try to choose the best for the environment here in Donbass. I am ready to share my knowledge and will find a great mixture to use. But there is one thing I can’t fall away wherever I am. This is the base of my philosophy, understanding of the way ice hockey should be played. It is easy! I want to see a “technical, offensive” ice hockey. It is the very thing everybody is waiting for. Playing in this manner is pleasant for the hockey players, coaches, fans, management and everybody that is interested and loves our wonderful sport.
- Many of us are educated at technical Soviet Union hockey style. Will you use its best results for our Academy practice?
- I am going to involve everything that is good for hockey. Looking below the surface, we can’t say that any hockey school – Canadian, Swedish or Soviet Union is the best one. Hockey is hockey. A lot is almost the same. The point is that one shouldn’t forget where he is, its traditions and moral principles. Obviously we will use some aspects of Soviet Union school; otherwise it would be stupid. They were among the absolute best.
- We will repeat the question you were asked by your Russian colleagues in Magnitogorsk. How do you bring up talents? Almost each year your country “produces” the celebrities of the level of Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Sedins brothers...
- We have a very good curriculum of how to develop and educate players and coaches. We don’t put pressure on the children, concerning strategy and tactics up to the age of 15-16. But the great difference lies in a basis, social one. Before this age we don’t choose for children unless they do it themselves. First of all we prepare good athletes and team players in spite of all kind of sport. That is why many Swedish sportsmen are good at football, tennis, basketball…I think we win because we give the children more freedom, including moral one, saving their personality and identity. The “person” is the first priority for us, after that the “athlete” and – then the “Ice Hockey Player”.
- If the reaching of a result isn’t dominated factor up to the age of 15-16, if there is no responsibility for it, how the victorious spirit is elaborated?
- You interpreted my massage not right enough. Obviously everybody always wants to win in each situation, fighting for each puck. Everybody wants to have the puck during the game. We use competitive moments at each practice. Starting with who will be the quickest in skating up to competition in bullets realization and of course we want to win each game. The question is how / in what way you want to win? We want to win involving all the players in the Team. I will give an example. Many coaches here try to win, start using 8-10 players, and they don’t involve other players, who sit at the bench. Understand me – I do want to win, but I am not under pressure of arithmetical result: the score, numbers. For me the main result is development - skating skill development, individual mastership, puck holding skills – a lot of players involved. You go to the tournament and have a goal to win, but can consider your team to be a winner if it played with 100% of the team players, if you did all your plan positively and took advantages of the game. Other team, reaching the first place, used only 50% of their players. Those were some of the things that people in Magnitogorsk were interested in. When I came to Denmark and started to set the hockey there, it took 2-3 years before I could see any results. We started a systematical work 15 years ago in Sweden and it has turned out with success.
- You have been in many Ukrainian cities, have estimated the level of the hockey and infrastructure objects. Is it “a fertile ground” for hockey to develop from a secondary kind of sport to a leading one?
- For me hockey is the best kind of sport in the world. It is easy to find mistakes. Speaking about Kharkow, Kiev, Donetsk – it doesn’t matter. If the task was to find mistakes, it wouldn’t be any sense to be here for me. For me the challenge is to find solutions and it doesn’t matter at all what country it is. A search of a solution is a fundamental point. It could be Kenya. Here in Ukraine we need to understand how to let people know, inspire and give impulse for them to like hockey again, be involved in this culture and get to know more about it.
- In football, the main purpose of creation and development of the Academy is the limit on foreign players. This entails a race of salaries, transfers. In ice hockey it does not like this, but whether the criterion of evaluation of the Hockey Academy of homegrown pupils for the first team?
- It is a great goal and it should be, but you get nothing for free. We will do our best all the time for this goal in order to develop ice hockey players for HC Donbass. For hockey school it will be the main criteria of work. We are going to set everything – infrastructure, system of Academy work in such a manner that entering it would be the greatest desire for sportsmen all over the world. In this situation a reasonable question arises: how many Ukrainians can be good enough for hockey, in order to let them meet the requirements which are submitted to our players in Academy. There will not be differences between the quality of foreigners and Ukrainians. The main criteria are the skills and potential for Ice Hockey. The chances will be equal, but it is very pleasant to have home-bred players in our own squad.
Born in Ängelholm, Sweden.
“Helsingborgs HC”, “IFK Osteraker”, “Linköpings HC”, “Rögle BK” (all Swedish), Denmark National Teams, “Modo” Sweden, “London Knights” UK, “AIK” Sweden, Sweden National Team U16, “Red Bull Salzburg” Austria, “Södertalje SK” Sweden
Some of achievements:
1998-1999 - “Coach of the Year” in Denmark
2001-2002 - “Coach of the Year” in Sweden
Press Service of HC "Donbass"