Rikard Gronborg has put in his time in Sweden's hockey federation. He's been a scout, an assistant coach and head coach for junior teams and an assistant coach for the men's national team for nearly a decade.
Gronborg, 47, will now get a crack as head coach of Sweden's national team. With the World Cup of Hockey a year away, Gronborg talked with ESPN.com about his coaching opportunity, Sweden's current talent pool and the chances of knocking off Canada.
Scott Powers: What excites you about this coaching position?
Gronborg: Well, obviously it was a lifetime chance, for sure. I think to be able to assemble [these] type of players in one tournament is something I feel a very huge privilege in doing. I feel, obviously, it's a huge task at the same time. I've been around for so long that this is kind of a natural step for me to do that. Like I said, it's a great challenge. The challenge is intriguing to me.
Powers: What did you learn from former Sweden national coach Par Marts?
Gronborg: We worked together for seven, eight years now. It's been a long journey together. I think there's a few things I learned. You know you need to go for it. He always wanted to challenge [us] and always go for it. He was a strong believer that we need to really challenge ourselves in every aspect of the game and be ready to go for it all, instead of just holding back and waiting for something to happen. You have to go out and get it. That's a big thing, I think, he stands for.
Powers: Canada will undoubtedly be the favorites, especially playing in Canada. Do you think they're beatable?
Gronborg: I think every team in the tournament is looking to win the tournament. I think it doesn't matter if you're Canadian, American or any other country that participates in this tournament. I think every team has an opportunity [to win] this tournament. Obviously, some teams are favorites to win. But I think any team, given an opportunity in a short period of time, can win this tournament. I'm really a firm believer. Canada is probably the team to beat in everyone's eyes, but I still think there's other teams who should be able to compete.
Powers: What do you take from finishing second in the Sochi Olympics?
Gronborg: I think, for us, there were a lot of challenges on the way, especially since we lost some key players. Obviously, we lost Henrik Sedin before the tournament, and we lost [Henrik] Zetterberg after the first game. We lost [Nicklas] Backstrom before the final game. That's three world-class centermen that we lost in this process. This was a tough task for us, and I think we still performed well enough to compete for the top spot. Canada was the better team in the finals. No question of that. At the same time, I think we were right there with the other teams. I think we had a strong tournament. It is a disappointing end with everything that transpired. At the same time, Canada is a tough team to beat, and when you have access to all the players, it'd still be a challenge to beat them. There's a lot of good things that happened. As small a hockey nation as we are, I think it's an achievement for us there to be competing at the level that we were.
Gronborg: Obviously a tremendous amount of experience. They've been the top players in the world for a long time, some of the best players to ever play the game. It's important for us and the coaching staff to utilize these players at their best capacity, what they were good at as players, but also as a hockey person. For us, probably, there's got to be a lot of a process of defining yourself as a group. Who's going to be responsible for what? I envision myself to use it a lot as a soundboard of everything we're doing. I think it's not only going to be tremendously fun to work with them, but it's also going to be a great experience for me to work with these guys.
Powers: Do you feel like this a special age for Swedish defensemen, especially with your young and talented players?
Gronborg: I think at the same time we have experience. I think we have a good mixture of experienced players. Look just at the success the Chicago Blackhawks have had with two very good defensemen and also two guys that played in the Olympics with [Johnny] Oduya and [Niklas] Hjalmarsson. And then you add on [Niklas] Kronwall, who has been a top defenseman for many, many years. You have quite a bit of experience. And then the younger guys, Erik Karlsson has been playing in the National Hockey League for several years now. Yeah, we may have some younger guys. I think the younger guys being more like Hampus Lindholm or a Jonas Brodin -- that type of player a few years younger that are also turning into pretty good defensemen here in the National Hockey League and will pretty soon be superstars, I believe, in that league.
Powers: Victor Hedman didn't make Sweden's team for Sochi. Do you feel like he's proven himself since then?
Gronborg: I think Victor Hedman is a tremendous hockey player. I think he's proven, especially the last couple years, that he's a very well-rounded defenseman. Obviously, last year with Tampa Bay having the success they had, I think he was obviously a big part of that. I think it's about maturity. It's about maturing into the defenseman we thought he was going to be when drafted second overall back in the day. I think he matured quite a bit as a defenseman. He definitely should have won a spot in the team.
Gronborg: Of course, we're going to turn every stone here until I find the right mash of players. That's going to be our biggest challenge here. Of course, he's going to be one of the guys we're going to be scouting to see if he fits into the puzzle.
Powers: Do you foresee all of your players coming from the NHL, or will you be looking at the SHL, KHL or elsewhere?
Gronborg: We're obviously going to try to get the best team together. It doesn't matter where they're playing. That said, I think it's probably obvious that most players are playing in the National Hockey League, the best players, the Swedish players. Naturally, we're going to tap into the National Hockey League when it comes to talent. At the same time, we're not going to exclude players because they're playing in different leagues.
Powers: Is it important for players to perform well this season to make the team?
Gronborg: Of course, it needs to be a living document. It needs to be a situation where, yeah, we might have kind of an idea which players we're going to build the team around. At the same time, it's performance, too. It has to be performance-based. Like any team, we can't base it on the past. We have to base it on the future, especially next year. That's the reason we need to come over and need to spend some time with each player and kind of make an updated list, if you like, with players. It's going to be pretty important for us to be keeping tab of these players. Even though it's after the summer, there may be some injuries and stuff like that. We can't just go, 'These are the 22 players we're going to look at.' There needs to be a bigger list than that, obviously.
Gronborg: Obviously it seems like -- I know for a fact that Swedish players are very well-liked over there. I think that says a little bit about the quality of not only hockey players, but them as people. I think when it comes to leadership, I don't necessarily think you have to have a 'C' or 'A' on the jersey to be a leader on the team, but that kind of gives you a little bit of an idea that we have players that are good leaders, also.
Powers: What does it mean for Sweden to have Henrik Lundqvist in net?
Gronborg: Well, quite a bit of experience and stability, I think. When you try to build a team, you always try to build from the bottom up. I think that's pretty important. Obviously, when you have a goalie like that and experience like that, I think you have a pretty good foundation to be at.