By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
November 29, 2015
Rikard Gronborg has waited his turn.
“It’s been a pretty fun ride,” said the 47-year-old Swede.
The roller-coaster ride will reach its apex in 2016, when the World Cup of Hockey returns to the national stage for the first time since 2004. The event, which will run from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1, will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada, and it will feature eight teams around the world and more than 150 players from the National Hockey League.
The head coach of the Great Falls Americans from 1998-2001, Gronborg will lead Team Sweden onto the ice.
“Well, obviously, it’s the most prestigious job that you can get in Sweden right now,” he said. “Of course, it’s one of the most prestigious jobs that you can have, period, in the hockey world, coaching a national team in the World Cup, which is going to be an outstanding tournament. It’s obviously a great honor to represent Sweden at this tournament, for sure.”
Born in Huddinge, a city with the population of 100,000 just south of the capital Stockholm, Gronborg has paid his dues. He began his coaching journey in the mid-90s as an assistant coach at St. Cloud State University, where he played college hockey. Another coaching job took him to Wisconsin for several years before he wound up in Great Falls.
Time flies, the head coach says, so his three years in the Electric City as head coach doesn’t feel like the 15-plus years ago that it is today.
“I have really fond memories,” Gronborg said, “not only from hockey but from the players that were there and especially the community. I thought it was a great community to move to. There’s a lot of great people there, and I thought great support during the games. I really enjoyed that time. I’m still looking back at those days as being one of my fondest memories as a coach.”
Gronborg, who’s been an assistant in the Olympics twice, including in 2014 when the Swedes took silver to Canada, coached Great Falls to much success and even championships. On his roster was Patrick Dwyer, who is the only hockey player to make it to the pros from Great Falls and is thought to be the only one to skate most of his junior hockey in Montana and propel himself to primetime. Dwyer’s mentor for two years, Gronborg remembers the former C.M. Russell High graduate quite vividly.
“It’s kind of a funny story because you get all the applications for the tryouts and stuff like that and I see this local kid,” Gronborg said of Dwyer, the former Carolina Hurricane who recently signed a contract to play overseas. “He must have been maybe 5-7, 140 pounds. So I wasn’t sure if I should invite this kid in, but the (general manger) at the time, Reid Peterson, kind of talked me into it. He was a pretty good player and we invited him in and I loved his attitude right away, right from the get-go, and he was only a junior in high school back then.
“So he was pretty young, but what I liked was his enthusiasm, his hard work and I thought he was a shoe-in for us. And also a local kid. If you look back, especially at his second year, my third year there, we had a great team. I mean you had three players that played games in the National Hockey League (David Printz and Bobby Robbins). For a low club like we were, that was awesome. Not only that but we had quite a few Division I players, too, out of those teams. He stood out. He stood out because he was a great energy player I thought.”
Gronborg’s advisory board for the upcoming World Cup includes revered names such as Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mats Sundin. Preparation has already begun – it started when he was awarded the opportunity in August – in determining the 23 players (20 skaters, three net minders) to the roster, 16 of which have to be named before March 1, so Gronborg will be attending games in the states to keep in-contact with players and scout them.
“Right now there’s a lot of planning to do and I have two championships before that that I have to do, over Christmas and New Year’s, and then the World Championships in May that I’m also coaching at,” said Gronborg, who’s been a staple in Swedish hockey for the past decade-plus. “So there’s going to be a couple of tournaments in between there before the World Cup.”
Gronborg lives in Sweden with his wife, Terra Dawn (Dawnie), and daughter Chloe, who is three years old. From Four Seasons Arena to Air Canada Centre, Gronborg has climbed the corporate ladder slowly but surely, and in 2016, he may as well be at the top of it. But he’s not forgetting how he got there.
“To me, it’s the ride itself that’s fun,” Gronborg said, reflecting on his coaching career. “It’s a journey that I’m really enjoying. No matter what level you’re at, just being able to support myself coaching hockey, which is a privilege itself, and then you are always trying for new challenges and stuff. It’s just kind of a situation where, am I lucky to do this? Yeah. But luck is also you prepare for the opportunity and the opportunity presented itself and I feel pretty prepared for doing this, and part of the preparation has gone through Great Falls.
“It’s been a fun journey. It’s been a long journey as a coach, but at the same time, it’s been a lot of fun. I have memories from all the places I’ve been to, and especially Great Falls for the better part of three years. I look back at that place and it makes me smile a little bit because it’s a special place.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Ex-Americans coach moves up ranks (November 29, 2015)