Hard times for Nilsson

Hardy Nilsson, the coach of Sweden's national ice hockey team, is under increasing pressure to resign following his team's disappointing performance in the World Cup.

Nilsson has spent four years at the helm of the team known as ‘Tre Kronor’ (Three Crowns) and his contract takes him to the World Cup 2006. But for days the press and fans have been calling for Nilsson to fall on his sword – or to be dismissed.

After Sweden’s 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals, a backlash has been brewing and has just reached boiling point. The Swedish Ice Hockey Association is under pressure, not least from the weight of their mailbox packed with complaints from unhappy fans.

Opinions are divided on the question, but any sporting bigwig will tell you that ice hockey is still the country’s national sport. For kids battling it out in a Sunday league squad, the heros of the hour are the likes of Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin. The duo, who ply their trade across the Atlantic in the NHL, are superstars at home and abroad and their salaries make a football’s biggest earners look like paupers.

Nilsson himself absconded to North America directly after the quarter-final debacle at Stockholm’s Globe Arena, but failed to escape the attention of the Swedish tabloids.

Nevertheless, while the criticism may be harsh, it is at least polite: Aftonbladet’s current “Please Hardy Resign” is about as strong as it gets – and Nilsson himself says he intends to weather the storm.

Following a press conference, Hardy told Tuesday’s Svenska Dagbladet he has no regrets and wants to stay put.

“I can’t see any obvious mistakes we made,” he said. “We have won medals in four out of the six tournaments I have coached Tre Kronor and are ranked second in the world. It’s wrong to say we haven’t done very well. My employers want me to stay.”

Not according to Expressen, who revealed on Tuesday that Nilsson is on borrowed time. Decision day is October 7, when the men in suits at Sweden’s Ice Hockey Association will assemble at HQ and decide Nilsson’s fate. In a long-winded tale of twists and turns, Tuesday’s Expressen documented the “unknown details” in Nilsson’s demise from behind-the-scenes backstabbing in the dressing room to harsh criticism from his players.

The excitement of watching an action-packed sixty minutes of play in Tuesday’s World Cup final may be a brief respite, but on his return from Canada hard times loom for Hardy Nilsson.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet

Christine Demsteader