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Eye On Europe: Coaching carousel

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson will look to lead the Swedes to a second straight Olympic gold medal this February in Vancouver. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Bengt-Ake Gustafsson will look to lead the Swedes to a second straight Olympic gold medal this February in Vancouver. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Team Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson will step down after this season with hopes of ending his reign the same way he started it: winning an Olympic gold and a World Championship in the same year. Expect him to go back to coaching at the club level next season.

It’s no secret Gustafsson is interested in getting to the NHL and he has “interned” – as he called it – with a couple of NHL clubs in the past. The Kontinental League has also been mentioned as an alternative.

“I want to get back to the day-to-day work with a team,” Gustafsson told Sweden’s Aftonbladet. “I’ve missed it. I’m interested in Russia. A lot of things have happened there, so I don’t want to close any doors.

“It’s flattering that there’s been some interest in my services, but now my full focus is on the Olympics and I won’t negotiate with any club before the tournament.”

Sweden’s new coach will be Par Marts, who led the Swedish junior national team to two consecutive finals against Canada at the World Junior Championship, as well as a bronze medal this year. Marts has also won the Swedish Elitserien title.

“It’s a pure pleasure and an honor to get the opportunity to work with hockey at its highest level in this country,” Marts said. “Working for Swedish hockey is both exciting and a task that comes with great responsibility.”

The Marts era will begin June 1.

FIRED TO BE HIRED
In November, Hannu Aravirta became the first Finnish SM-liiga coach to be fired this season. His Jokerit team was dead last in the standings when CEO Keijo Sailynoja, a former Team Finland player, handed Aravirta his pink slip and gave the job to Hannu Jortikka, coach of the Finnish national junior team.

This week, Aravirta became the first new coach in the Swedish Elitserien when Modo fired Miroslav Horava and hired Aravirta in the hopes he could kick-start a team that’s currently 10th in the standings, seven points from the final playoff spot with 14 games remaining.

“It’s a challenge, but I’ve faced challenges throughout my career,” said Aravirta, 56, who won two Finnish titles with Jokerit in the 1990s and two World Championship silver medals as Team Finland’s coach.

GOING RENTAL
Linkoping HC has found a new business model: It rents its star players to Russia. Back in 2008-09, the club first signed its three star players – Magnus Johansson, Tony Martensson and Mattias Weinhandl – to long contracts, then rented them to Russian teams. Martensson and Weinhandl played for Dynamo Moscow, while Johansson went to Atlant Mystichi.

Martensson and Johansson returned to Linkoping this season, while Weinhandl stayed in Moscow, where he at one point led the KHL in scoring. He also made the Swedish Olympic team, as did Johansson.

Now Martensson, who has a contract with Linkoping through 2012, is all set to return to the KHL with Dynamo Moscow. Both the player and the club are happy.

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“Of course, we would have liked to see him play here, but this is the best alternative to that,” said Linkoping CEO Mike Helber.

The main reason the arrangement is good for Linkoping is that with a new transfer agreement between the NHL and the Swedish federation, the team wouldn’t get any compensation for Martensson, who spent two seasons in the Anaheim Ducks organization, playing six games with the big club in 2003-04.

“I was given the opportunity to choose between the KHL, the NHL and Linkoping, and I chose the KHL,” said the 29-year-old center, whose contract with Dynamo also has an option for another year. “We have now reached an agreement where I’ll return to Linkoping later on.”

Added Helber: “The NHL agreement will not be a one-year deal so we would be in the same situation next year. Now Tony can choose whether he wants to play in Russia or return to Sweden.”

FAN FRUSTRATION
Tampere Ilves may be the most legendary club in Finnish hockey history, with its 16 Finnish championships and 37 medals in total. Unfortunately, the 79-year-old club won its last title in 1985 and last medal – a bronze – in 2001, which in fan time is an eternity.

On Saturday, the fans will demonstrate their frustration during the team’s game against Espoo Blues in the SM-liiga, by walking out of the stands for 15 minutes during the first period.

“We’re not turning our backs on the team,” said Esa Kauppila, a fan, talking to Finnish YLE television. “The target of our demonstration is the board where we want to see changes. That’s why we will return and we’ll be loudly behind the team the rest of the game. The management has acquired players that simply aren’t good enough,”

Tampere CEO Esa Honkalehto is unfazed, but did invite the fan leaders to discuss matters with him.

“Obviously, our record this side of 2000 isn’t good,” Honkalehto said. “We’re all aware of the problems, but the fans didn’t seem to have any better solutions than us. I think their reaction is natural. I was relieved to hear that they are venting their frustration towards the management because the team and players need all the support they can get.”

Especially when the team is currently last in the standings.

Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen. 

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