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Erika Grahm goes all in

On leave from her full-time job, MODO captain and Team Sweden star wants to make every moment count.

Erika Grahm has captained MODO since 2010.
Håkan Norström / MODO Hockey

It’s easily the most well-worn trope of the women’s hockey world: sacrifice.

Part of MODO Hockey and Team Sweden forward Erika Grahm’s sacrifice involves saving her money for years - money she earned in MODO’s ticket sales department starting in 2011 - in order to take a season-long sabbatical and focus on hockey. This season, with PyeongChang rapidly approaching, Grahm’s sole focus is hockey.

“I always wondered how it feels to just be a hockey player,” she told Sveriges Radio when the news broke earlier this month.

On the surface it’s an inspiring story of determination, perseverance, and of course, sacrifice. It does beg the question, though - what if she didn’t have to? For as much as she’s already achieved, how much higher could Grahm and other elite female athletes soar if they were unfettered like their male counterparts?

Grahm says she isn’t concerned with what the men are able to do, opting instead to “focus on myself and keep working for reaching my own dreams.”

“Stamped out of work for a while. This will be exciting. Girl’s dream now becoming reality.”

At 26-years-old, Grahm is the closest thing to a homegrown superstar on MODO’s roster. Born in Kramfors in central Sweden, she joined the organization in 2005 at age 14. Five years later she was awarded the captaincy. Grahm holds franchise records in goals, assists, and points, and sits second all-time in club games played. She debuted with Team Sweden as a U-18 and has been a Damkronorna fixture ever since.

So far Grahm’s plan for focusing solely on hockey this season is succeeding. She’s averaging 1.17 points per game and sits third in the SDHL for goal scoring. The additional time to rest her body between games, workouts, and practices isn’t empty space, though. She’s taking an online class and, of course, preparing for PyeongChang. Grahm will next skate with Damkronorna during a three-game series from Oct 4th through 6th against rival Finland.

MODO coach Björn Edlund praised Grahm’s decision, saying, “I think that it's amazing that she decides to only focus on the game and herself... she has been fighting hard for a long time for the growth of women's hockey and I think she deserves this ‘break.’”

Edlund also pointed to HV71’s Fanny Rask, who is also playing hockey full-time this season, as another positive example: “Hopefully this will bring more eyes on the sport and in the long run create better conditions for our women.”

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13 - Switzerland v Sweden
Grahm served as an alternate captain for Team Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The 2017 SDHL offseason was at times tumultuous and controversial. One team was forced to leave the league after their funding was cut, while the Swedish Federation opted to stop subsidizing transfer fees for foreign players. Despite the bumps in the road interest in both the sport and the league continues to grow - due in no small part to talented players like Grahm. But there is, of course, still a long way to go.

Grahm cited the need for more media exposure as a means of growing the Swedish women’s game: “It would be nice if the television will [show] more of our games [on] TV. Then we reach more people and hopefully they will like to see us play the game we love.”

Erika Grahm and her Damkronorna teammates will be in front of a global television audience soon, when Sweden takes on Japan in the first match of the PyeongChang women’s tournament on February 10, 2018.