These Vikings are real Vikings.
The Lawrence University hockey team has taken on a Scandinavian flavor over the past few years with an influx of players from Sweden, and that can be largely attributed to assistant coach Kalle Larsson.
Larsson is a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, a former Lawrence hockey standout and a 2007 graduate of the university. Larsson has helped attract four Swedes and a fifth player with deep Swedish roots to the school.
“I’m very proud of the guys to see how much they’ve grown, but I want to give them help with their Lawrence experience,” said Larsson, who earned a degree in government from Lawrence. “I believe in Lawrence as a school and in the hockey program, and I want the Swedish guys to experience what I have.”
Lawrence’s Swedish contingent is made up of junior defenseman William Thoren (Gothenburg), sophomore forward Gustav Lindgren (Stockholm), sophomore goalie Anton Olsson (Stromstad), freshman goalie Fabian Sivnert (Hollviken) and sophomore defenseman Erik Soderlund, who lived in Sweden for eight years before returning to California.
“When we hired Coach Larsson, we were looking for him to utilize his connections in the junior hockey world to open new doors for our program,” Lawrence head coach Mike Szkodzinski said. “He has done a tremendous job doing just that and has even exceeded expectations. The best part, in our mind, is that he continues to open more doors every year for our program.”
Thoren met Larsson when he was working with Scandinavian Hockey Consulting, a firm that helps European players find junior teams and expose them to college choices in the United States.
“I would never be here if it wasn’t for Kalle,” said Thoren, an All-Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association selection as a freshman. “Coach Szkodzinski had never heard of me or talked to me, and Kalle told him that he has a Swedish client who is interested in coming over to play. First then, Coach started to talk to me and showed his interest.”
Thoren chose Lawrence, and the assistant coach at the time, Ryan Petersen, later left to play pro hockey in Europe. Larsson left his consulting job and came back to his alma mater as the assistant coach in 2010. In the ensuing three years, more Swedish players followed.
“I think the product we are selling is very good, but with my own experience, it makes it even easier,” said Larsson, who spent several years after graduation in the corporate world before returning to hockey. “They see that it pays off. If they want to stay and work in the U.S., I’m an example of that.”
The Swedes are unanimous in their praise of Larsson and his help in their transition to life at Lawrence.
“Kalle can you give you the biggest insight into the school,” said Sivnert, who recently joined the team after transferring from Bemidji State. “With Kalle, you can go in-depth and see what you’re getting yourself into. If you have questions, he has done it himself. He has a close bond with the school and can deal with issues. He’s an invaluable resource right now.”
That relationship has continued to grow for Thoren.
“Kalle tells us upon our arrival that if we wonder anything or need help with anything, he is there for us,” Thoren said. “It is great to have him here if you need someone to talk to or have questions. Kalle is not only an assistant coach to me, he is also a close friend. We have a great relationship outside of hockey too, so I see him as a friend as well.”
Sometimes it’s also nice to speak your native language and get a little closer to your own culture, Lindgren said. He credits Larsson and the rest of the Swedish contingent with giving him someone to lean on.
“If it wasn’t for Kalle,” said Lingren, as if pondering where his journey would have taken him. “He’s the one who came to Sweden and talked to me and my coach. He talked about Lawrence and what a great opportunity it was for an education and to play hockey. It was tough in the beginning. I would describe it as an emotional rollercoaster. I had some homesickness, and I have a girlfriend back home (big smile). This year has been better.”
The similar backgrounds and common language bonds the Swedish players, but Olsson talked about this team as a family whose roots go deeper than just nationality.
“Our squad is like a family and families do a lot of things together. For the hockey part it does not really matter what nationality it is, I believe,” said Olsson, who also plays for Larsson on the golf team where he is one of the stars. “I learned, with help from Kalle, my first year in the U.S., how coaching, style of hockey and behavior differs from Sweden.”
Olsson said having Swedish teammates on the ice doesn’t really change anything for the Vikings, but having fellow Swedes on campus has made a huge difference.
“Studying in a foreign language can be quite a challenge sometimes, and then it is good sometimes to discuss with your fellow Swedes because it helps to really grasp what you actually are doing,” Olsson said. “William has helped me a lot with the academic part, which I’m very thankful for.”
That commonality of culture and language is what helps Larsson guide these young men through the highs and lows of sports and the academic rigors of Lawrence.
“I know what they are going through in the transition, not just related to sports, but in the academic life and the cultural life,” said Larsson, who was an academic all-conference selection during his time at Lawrence. “There are things they may not know how to express in English. I do think they feel, in certain situations, more comfortable speaking with me. I’m from where they’re from.”
Both forward Brad Scurfield and goaltender Fabian Sivnert were selected to the all-tournament team at the Pathfinder Bank Oswego State Classic at the end of the year. Sivnert made 29 saves in Lawrence’s 2-1 victory over Castleton State in the tournament semifinals. Scurfield had just one assist in the two tournament games but played a monumental number of shifts for the Vikings in the two games.
Mazur scores at all-star game
Lawrence football standout Tyler Mazur scored a touchdown in the All-American Bowl, an all-star game for NCAA Division III players. Mazur had a catch and also scored in the game, which was played in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn. The timing was perfect for Mazur, who was able to play the football game during a break in the basketball team’s schedule. Mazur is one of key players off the bench for the Lawrence basketball team.
Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.