Jag är inte Zlatan, Jag är Johan Björkman!

Johan Björkman
03-09-93
Sweden National Team
Harvestehuder THC 1st Men’s Team

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At the age of 5, I started with hockey in Partille Sport Club, Sweden. People often ask me ”Why did you start playing hockey in a country were hockey almost doesn’t exist?” it’s simple; if your dad is a ex-national player and trainer, your mother ex-national player and your brother already plays, you really don’t have much of a choice…

Already at early age, I realised that hockey was my sport. It wasn’t just the game, it was everything around it that made me continue. The people, the culture and the game was something you just can’t find anywhere else.

Because of the lack of teams and players in Sweden, we needed to go abroad a lot. This was obviously something that we as kids loved. Be able to go to other countries and play against players all over the world.

At the age of 15 I got the chance to travel with the 1st mens team of Partille to Serbia, to play the indoor european club Championship III, I was sitting most of the time on the bench, but in the last match, the coach put me on… I was nervous and couldn’t really believe that I was actually playing. It was a big venue, with more people than I’ve ever played in front before, it took me 2 minutes before scoring my first goal!

That feeling, hearing the crowd, the players around me, everyone screaming. It was that moment that made me realize, that I want to go all the way in hockey, this is my life, my dream and my goal!

Since that moment I started to play regularly with the 1st mens team, and we went from the european indoor C division to the A division after a thrilling last game in the B-division where we had to win with 3 goals against Lille, to advance. Lille had won all the previous matches and we were (like always) the underdogs. The game ended 7-3 and I scored 6 of the goals. For those who do not know, there is no outdoor hockey in Sweden. We don’t have one single waterbased hockeypitch, which makes indoor our main priority. With that said, to reach the A-division with Partille was the biggest achievement we could reach.

Our first A-divison tournament was in 2012 at Der Club an Der Alster, Hamburg. An amazing tournament for us. We couldn’t ask for a better indoor hockey city to play in with clubs like Alster, Uhlenhorst HC (UHC) and Harvestehuder THC (HTHC). We finished 6th, after loosing 4-3 against the winner of the tournament Der Alster. We accomplished our goal as a team and stayed in the A-divison, and for me personally I won the top-scorer with 12 goals, which made me unbelievable proud of.

At that time my brother played at Harvestehuder THC already, after been visiting him and talking to the coach, they went and watched me play. After that we started to talk and in August 2012, after my graduation, I moved to Hamburg and Harvestehuder THC.
I was obviously super excited to move to Hamburg, as Germany is THE hockey country if you are from Sweden.

The biggest hockey challenge: playing for the german club Harvestehuder THC

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Harvestehuder THC wasn’t that successful at the time I moved there. They finished 6th the year before and was never really a opponent for the title. By the time I got there, they just changed coach from Christian “Büdi” Blunk to Christoph Bechmann. Christoph or Bechi as he’s know, had earlier coached Rot Weiss Köln and already won the german indoor as well as outdoor championship. You could tell that it was a big change when he came to the team as head-coach. He believes in discipline, hard work and perfection. I remember my 5th training with my new team. We had been training for a while and now it was time for the “selection” before the season… We did an excercise where we were suppose to hit the ball but you can imagine how a guy from Sweden which played indoor his whole life and maybe did 8 “real” outdoor matches in his carreer hitting a ball… I tried and tried to hit it hard and on the ground, but it just didn’t work. That wasn’t my game, I was a forward who ran with the ball and scored goals. I didn’t hit! I saw how he started look at me, after a while he came over to me. After that day, after those words I went to the pitch almost everyday, just to hit the ball, stop a bouncing ball and learn the outdoor hockey. I thought to myself: “How is this gonna go? What have I gave my self into!?” This is the Bundesliga, and not Sweden anymore…

At the first weekend we played two matches, weren’t my best matches neither my worst. I runned a lot but didn’t get much ball. I started to think: what have happened to me? I can’t remember the last time I played two games without scoring. Our third game was against Berlin HC, at the time, Berlin was the defending German champion. The game started well, attacking a lot and creating chances.
They scored 1-0, we did 1-1. In the second half got the ball in the circle in front of the keeper and did what I always used to do, received the ball and turned with it and the keeper was gone. I put the ball in the goal, and scored my first official goal for HTHC! I was booming, the feeling was unbelievable! Two minutes after I scored my second and we won that game with 4-2. After that, the season just flew by, we won every game and played one draw. Everyone was asking what’s going on with HTHC? And the team was just enjoying the time, then, started the indoor season.

Finally I was in my natural ‘habitat’; indoor hockey.

What a season we played. We won every single game and ended up German indoor champions 2013, on top of that I was rewarded topscorer and best player of the European U21 indoor championship with Sweden, which meant a lot since it is always special to play for your country. At HTHC I played 22 matches and had 21 wins and one draw. I finished 3rd in the indoor top-scorer and was 3rd in the outdoor top-scorer. Who would have thought that? About HTHC? About me? I really didn’t care. I really didn’t have the time, which was good at the moment…

During the outdoor season we lost our semifinal, against Köln which won the title that year.
The second year was going to be a bit different. We started like always, a pretty good pre-season, but nothing special. I knew I stood under a lot of pressure since my last season was successful, but that really didn’t bother me. The first half the season was okey, we were 4th in the league in the winter break (the outdoor seasons stops earlier in Germany due to a longer indoor competition during the winter period), but ended the season with a 0-5 loss against UHC which made everyone wondering “wat’s going on with the first team!?”.
We really didn’t take the indoor season very seriously. We would train as usual but mainly focus on our fitness and next outdoor season. Me on the other hand, who loves indoor, took it very serious since we had the European with Sweden in January. Bundesliga went ok. We lost our ¼ final against Berlin. You could see that we didn’t want the semifinal as bad as last year, for what was fair that we lost that game. Playing both high-level club and international hockey is hard. It’s hard to find your energy to have 100% focus when you have so many important games. I guess I can thank my Swedish team, for my energy, since they are the coolest team I have ever played with. Always giving 100%, pushing each other and having such a great time in everything we do together.

European Nations Championship with Sweden

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In the European Championship with Sweden we knew it was gonna be hard. We had a though group with Austria, Czech Republic and Poland. We couldn’t get a better start then we did: at half time we were 3-1 against Austria, 6-2 against Poland. Unfortunately we lost both of those matches…

How and why are questions everyone was asking. It was obvious, lack of preparation. With a small amount of budget, it’s hard to do a proper preparation. We finished 7th and didn’t make our goal to qualify for the world cup. I had the honour to receive “top-scorer” and also “Best player” of the tournament, which was a huge deal for me. It’s always fun to receive prices. But when there is players there like Moritz Fürste, and Rachwalski it’s something extra.
After this the indoor season was almost over. We still had the European club championship to play. We manage to win the tournament and be titled as the best european club team, which was huge aswell. For me as a Swedish to finally win this title is really special. I’ve started down in the bottom in the D divison and have now played up all the divisions and finally won it. It felt good to get “Top-scorer” as well, and feel that I’ve helped the team to conquer this award.

The EHL KO16

Now it was time for outdoor. We worked very hard in the pre-season, since we knew what was waiting.
Bundesliga was going alright. We were in the top 4 and was already done for the final 4. Before we went of to EHL, we played against Nürnberg. They were at the time 10th in the league. We lost that game 8-2. It was a total chaos. “How is EHL going to be!?” “Are they good enough!?” People always like to talk a lot. Always someone who want to see you fail. We heard a lot of doubts after that, I really didn’t care, I never really cared about that kind of stuff. People wanted to take us down and make us play bad, for me that had the opposite effect: I get even more energy from it, I want to prove everyone there wrong, I want to show them how wrong they are, not with words, with actions. And we did it!

KO16

Our first game we had Mülheim. Though game. It’s always hard to play against teams you know. They know your strength and weaknesses. Therefore a close result: 1-0 win. The feeling was unbelievable! To knew we did our first hard game, we won it and we are through the quarterfinals. We showed everyone our level and we knew that we could play even better.

KO8

Our second game was against Club de Campo. I was thrilled, perfect team for our ¼ final. The game went as excepted, and we won with 4-1. Managed to score 2 goals gave me a lot of energy as well. At 67th minute I did a sprint, I felt something in my hamstring. Didn’t really care since it was only 3 minutes to go and I wanted to score. After the game we went back to the hotel and on the way to the bus I felt it again. After being at our fysio 4 times that day/night and the morning after I felt ok.

Semi final

So we were getting close. Semifinal against Racing from Belgium. My leg felt ok, didn’t really want to think about it too much. First minute I got the ball, dribble my opponent, ran in front of him and then I felt it. BAM! I knew directly that something was wrong. I walked off the pitch. It wasn’t completely broken but not 100%. It was a tight game. At halftime Racing had a 2-0 lead. The coach said “ you will go back on last 20minutes, but we did 2-1. Then he said “last 15” but we did 2-2. Last he said “Ok, you will go on last 5” but luckily we did score the 3-2 and that was also the result of the game. How crazy is this, we are in the final of EHL. Amazing team effort. We were giving all we had, and it paid off. We showed everyone how good we were and I don’t think anyone had anything to say after that. But why stop now and be happy? We had one more game to become EHL champions, Champions of Europe.

This match marks also a very emotive talk from HTHC that considering the end result had a very strong impact in the boys, check it out:

Final

For the first time I was really nervous. Not about the final, but about my leg, can I play??? The night before everyone was talking to me about the game tomorrow, are u gonna play? I was a mess, couldn’t think clear at the time. Was thinking about it the whole night. The morning of the final day, I felt great. Didn’t feel my leg but I hadn’t been running so I didn’t know for sure. After breakfast the coach wanted to talk to me in private. In the room was our doctor, fysio and both coaches. I knew what they were going to say. So there it was, no final for me. They wanted to save me for the final 4 in Bundesliga 2 weeks after. It didn’t felt fair. I understood the decision 100%, and now I knew it was the right one. Luckily I didn’t have to do it on my own.

The guys played a great final. It was obviously super though to stand on the side and watch them play such a though final. But I knew somehow that we were going to win, and we did. And the way we did just show our strength. We fight till the very end. It was unbelievable. I still couldn’t really realize it. I was unbelievable proud of the team! I love the guys, but not to be able to be on the pitch and play and fight for the win made me feel like something was missing for me.
The two following weeks were hard. Rehab everyday and meeting the fysio just to make my leg fit for the semifinal. I didn’t play that weekend. My first training was the day before the semi. It felt great! My leg didn’t hurt, I started the semifinal and it went good. We were playing UHC. A really though match, not only because they beat us 0-5 last time, it was at their home pitch as well. It was 2-2, I got a long ball from Tobi Hauke, this was my chance. I knew I was faster than my opponent, just had to get the ball and would be in a one against one situation with the keeper. I ran to the ball and when I was going to take it I just felt a big hit. It was like someone put a big knife in my hamstring. After seeing the video, I know that the keeper came out and slided, and hit right on my injured leg when it was stretched out which made it brake completely. This was it…

There was no way I could play after this. We still won the games on penalties strokes. After the final stroke, I couldn’t hold it back any more. That was the moment I realized that I wasn’t gonna play this final either. After preparing my leg and head for this
and then it all happened again. The day after the guys beat Köln with 4-1 in the final and showed everyone how good we were and are. An unbelievable game from the whole team. Everyone played such a great game and it was unbelievable to watch. What a season. What can you say about it. I don’t think anyone really understood what we had done.

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An amazing journey. I’m just happy to be able to be a part of it. Even if I was devastated not to play the finals, I learned a lot from it. I learned that a great team can’t survive only with 4 great players and the rest just rely on them. A great team needs everyone to give everything, fight for each other and no matter who is not playing, everyone will do their best and give 100% for the team. And we had that. This experience made me grow as a player but also as person, knowing that I don’t have to be the “best player” how scores the goals or decides a game, it can be anyone and it can be the entire team.

Johan Björkman

@bmanjohan

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