Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and Manchester, England have nothing on Karlstad, Sweden.
The main city in Värmland is home to Färjestads BK, arguably the most successful sports franchise ever in Scandinavia and possibly, anywhere else. The 2010-11 Swedish hockey champions haven’t won as many titles as the Lakers in the NBA, the Yankees in baseball, the Red Wings or Canadiens in hockey or Manchester United in soccer, but their dominance since the start of the Elitserien renders them the greatest team in any sport.
“I’m not sure that too many teams have been able to do what we have done and do it for so long,” said Färjestad president Håkan Loob. “We’re like a production line. No one in the Elitserien can beat us in results.”
Since the Elitserien began play in 1975, Färjestad has reached the finals 19 times, winning nine titles. “I don’t think any team has reached the championship more than 50 percent of time like we have,” Loob said. “It really is an accomplishment.
By contrast, the Yankees have won 27 World Series, with 10 of them from 1947-1964. Overall, the Bronx Bombers have played in 40 of 108 World Series, roughly 38 percent.
The Canadiens, with 24 Stanley Cups to their credit, are next in terms of championships. Since the NHL began in 1927, “Les Canadiens” have played in almost 25 percent of all Stanley Cup finals.
Storied English soccer franchise Manchester United has won the English crown 18 times since its founding back in the late 1890s, with much of that success coming since 1994 under current boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
Then there are the Lakers. The storied Tinsel Town basketball team has won the crown 16 times since the NBA grew up out of a merger of two earlier leagues in 1959.
Although all four teams have more championships to their name, none have dominated their sport like Färjestad. The Karlstad team has appeared in eight Eliterien finals since 2000, two semifinals and one quarterfinal, winning the crown four times. Loob said the club’s formula for winning, “is hard to explain.”
“It has a lot to do with the culture and tradition here,” Loob said. “We expect to win and everyone we bring into the team knows that.”
Färjestad is extremely American in that respect. Unlike many Swedish teams—in any sport—that set aims such as playing well or finishing near the top, Färjestad starts each season expecting to win the crown and it doesn’t try to hide those expectations.
“We do take a lot of grief from other teams for our attitude,” Loob said, “but then, we don’t have a choice. We want to win, to be the best. We’re not happy with finishing second or just making the playoffs. Our ultimate aim every year is to win the championship.”
There’s more than just an American attitude at Färjestad. All of the front-office staff has played in the NHL, returning to Sweden with experience as well as attitude.
Loob, GM Thomas Rundqvist, head coach Tommy Samuelsson and fellow front-office mates Kjell Dahlin, Roger Johansson and Frank Neal also all played together for FBK and have worked together since retiring. Jorgen Jonsson, a longtime player for FBK, recently retired and joined the front office.
"We know exactly what we have in each other," said Loob. "If you're not given responsibility, you're not going to take it either," Loob said. "For somebody to run the big show, he's not competent enough to do it all so he needs all the people he can to surround him and make things better all the time. And, if you need people, you have to give them something. You can't just ask them to polish your shoes."
Together, the front office and the players have managed to overcome the biggest problem Farjestad faces year after year—losing players to the NHL. Since 1977, 38 players have gone directly from Färjestad to the NHL while another 70 have moved to NHL affiliates such as the American Hockey League or leagues in Switzerland, Germany and Russia.
“We know every year that we are going to lose two or three players, so we are always looking at players,” Loob said. “We have a strategy that we follow and that works.”
Farjestad builds its teams around a core of 30-something NHL veterans and has a habit of finding just the right young players, especially in goal. Loob said the team’s success hinges on just how well everyone follows that plan.
"We have a strategy that tells us history is a very big part of the game and so is what we're doing now," Loob said. "The third step is what will we do in the future? What kind of visionary thoughts do we have? When it comes to history and the future, why wouldn't you want to use people that know about it, people who can walk the walk, so to speak."
At Farjestad, that means walking and talking about winning.
“We’re very proud of what we have done,” Loob said. “We always look forward to the next championship. We don’t have humble aims. We want to win.”
By Chipp Reid