When The Ice Garden last spoke to SDHL star and HV71 captain Jenni Asserholt back in May, she was devoted to her team and her efforts growing the women’s game with young girls in Jönkoping, Sweden. Four months, one SDHL silver medal, and one life-changing announcement later, her priorities have expanded. She’s stepping off the ice for the season and is expecting her first child in February.
Asserholt was gracious with her time (as always) and recently chatted with us about her future plans, what foreign players bring to the SDHL, and more.
How will you be staying involved with the team during your pregnancy? I'm guessing you'll still be working in the front office.
Yes, I am working in the front office now and will have a role on the team as a team coordinator, video coach and mentor. I want to stay as close to the team as possible and hope to bring something good to the team even though I can’t be with them on the ice.
There's been a lot of talk this past offseason about foreign players coming to the SDHL. How does having foreign players impact HV71?
By having foreign players in SDHL, the league has been taking positive steps in its development. Many of these players are also top players on their native national teams, which brings the SDHL league up to a top level.
Also, I am thinking about all different influences from different cultures; experience and knowledge they bring into the league both on and off the ice.
Just to give a couple of players as an example, I would like to mention the three Finnish national team players in HV71: Riika Välilä, Rosa Lindstedt and Sanni Hakala. And also Canadian national team star player Jennifer Wakefield, who played for Linköping [the] last two seasons, and not least of all Molly Engstrom from the USA, who has a big list of experience in WC and Olympics for USA Hockey.
On top of those leading countries in the world, the best players from other countries choose to play in Sweden because it is a high level league. The word spread fast and it is exciting to see how the SDHL will be in a couple of years, if it is going to continue in these positive fast steps. Of course there is also a discussion if it is too many foreign players and what will happen to the Swedish girls’ development, but I think this is a great way for the younger Swedish players to learn and have this many role models from different cultures to look up to and develop together with.
One of the amazing things about HV71's roster this year is Riikka Välilä continuing her legendary career. What does having a veteran presence like that bring to the team?
She is probably one of the most incredible top athletes I ever met. She is very professional in everything she does. She motivates and inspires the team with everything she does to get her life puzzle together. She also is a great person and takes good care of everyone like a mom. You can learn so much from her by just watching her professional approach both on and off the ice.
How do you feel about the Svenska Ishockeyförbundet's decision to stop subsidizing transfer fees for foreign players?
SDHL is one of the best leagues in the world and it feels like instead of being proud of the league we have in Sweden, I think the Swedish Hockey Association in this case works against the SDHL.
Rather than try to minimize the foreign players in the league, it should be a privilege for the league that players from around the whole world want to come here to Sweden and SDHL and play hockey, which is amazing! Also, if we look in general at the Swedish team’s money situations we are aware that [there are] already limited conditions in the clubs and for the girls as it is, so instead of working against it I would see a positive influence and build on the positive things.
If this is a way to lower the amount of international players I think it’s wrong. Would the NHL have to minimize the foreign players in the league? I´m sure that would be a big thing, here we take it and swallow and continue to work.
You mentioned you plan to return to ice hockey next season, and that you've played since you were six years old. Is it strange at all to have your routine change for this season, even if it's for such a happy reason?
Of course we are excited, very happy, and are looking forward to becoming parents. Well, the feeling when your team is going on the ice and I am not is different, but this is a new chapter and we are very happy for it.