Vladimir Egorov is the physiotherapist and coach who works with the real stars of NHL and KHL, the owner of the the world championship gold in hockey as a part of the Swedish national team and just a person who was brave enough to change radically his life.
— Are you Swedish or Russian?
— Russian. I was born in Kaliningrad, and at home I even have a poster with the name of the city so that my kid wouldn’t forget his roots. At the age of fifteen I moved to Sweden. Now I have a dual citizenship to travel easily around Europe.
— How exactly did you get in Sweden?
— I was in the ninth grade and my parents had been divorced by that moment. My mum was working with building and developing of real properties and societies infrastructure. A lot of projects were between Kaliningrad and Gävle, and she had to go back and forth. In Sweden she met a man. Then the question arose either she would move there with me, or we would stay in Russia. I chose moving thinking that I’d be able to start a new life. In Russia I used to skip classes at school doing nothing. I didn’t want to study; I had no interest. Here everything had changed. I can’t say that here at school it was easier, just the mood was a bit different. I was content by my decision though I don’t know what my life in Russia would have been.
— Was it easy to integrate into the other culture, traditions and mentality?
— To tell you the truth, even now it’s not so easy with the acceptance of Sweden. I remember when we just arrived, my mum used to say to me to look at William, her new husband’s son, so that I could take a good example how to behave here. Also, she wanted me to change my name to ‘more Swedish’. But I didn’t do it. It helps me at work. My name and surname, my tactics at work, all of that make a special soviet atmosphere, there’s some mystery for the Swedish. If you make your work well, you’ll be better remembered and with greater probability they’ll wish to go to you but not to a person whose name is Sven Svensson, for example. It even sounds cooler when people say that they visit a Russian specialist. Although, when I arrived in Russia last time, everyone named me there a Swedish, but here it’s vice versa they call me a Russian. Still I’m trying to save my Russian qualities within myself. Even working with players, I try to be more Russian than Swedish. However, I learned a lot here, some specificities of communicating with people, for example.
— Was it complicated to master the language?
— From the very beginning it was easy for me to write, with the rest it was a bit more difficult. If I had arrived here at least at the age of fourteen, it would have been easier. I barely could speak English at that time, so I had to learn two languages at the same time. But I’ve learned English thanks to TV by watching TV-series, such as ‘Friends’, for example. I didn’t make any efforts for that; it was just put in my mind. But as for Swedish, I was reading constantly, that’s why I learned to write. At first, I was too shy to talk to people, so it took more time. I knew German quite well. It helped me a while to communicate with people. But Swedish at that time became my third language, that’s why to master it I had to say no to German. I needed a speech practice precisely in Swedish. But I consider that the process of the language adaptation was over quickly and easy. I didn’t have any trouble with the language during the process of education. Concerning the current moment, even Russian pose me some problem since I don’t speak Russian a lot.
— Were you easily accepted in the country? Was there any discrimination?
— I haven’t notice any discrimination towards me. I have here some friends with different colour of skin and, perhaps, they have another story concerning it, but I didn’t have any troubles with it. Even if there were some situations, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them, probably, because it was related to some person in particular but not a Swedish system as a whole. But I was in Stockholm, in the other cities there’s probably another situation. Stockholm is a huge international city like Moscow, I guess. In the cities which are smaller everything is different.
— Your first steps in your profession you were making already in Sweden. Where did the beginning take its place?
— I’ve always been in sport. Everything has already started in Russia. I was doing hand-to-hand combat, taekwondo, roller skating, took part in some competitions. But I’ve always been really skinny. When I arrived in Sweden, I started to work out to gain some muscle mass. At the same time, I was studying at gymnasium for the technical programme. I wanted to work in the sphere which studies the artificial intelligence. In my third year of education, I had a choice either to continue developing in this sphere or choose learning for a physiotherapist. I still remember that I’ve been waiting until the last day when I needed to choose because I didn’t know what I wanted more. At that moment I had an image in my mind of me sitting in front of my computer all days long and I decided I didn’t want to do it for all my life. I chose the second option. Then I started to study in the Karolinska Institute, got all the way but in my last year of studies I left the path. I passed all the exams but decided not to take my license because I was discouraged by the results most physios were getting. Then I started to work as a bus driver, I’ve worked like that for about three years. I didn’t know what else I could do. But finally, my mum said that I had to get an education and go to work as a doctor. I’ve made a decision to finish and afterwards to see what life will offer. I studied for a year and a half. Then I got to the teacher who used a bit different methods at the practice and his patients reached the results much faster than others’. At that moment everything has taken its beginning. After it I began to travel to America, around Europe, studied in Canada. Based on the experience I got in every of these places, I built my own system. At that period of time, I started to work with people whom nobody couldn’t help before me. At that moment I made up my mind that if I would be able to help them somehow, it’ll be really cool. I had some truly important patients through whom my first hockey player found me, from whom my way in the hockey sphere began. Like that I started working with Marcus Krüger who was playing at that time in Chicago. He was healthy but was eager to strengthen his shape. He was about twenty at that time, he was clever enough for his age. Then he brought to me his friend Johnny Oduya who was playing for “Chicago Blackhawks” as well. And he had serious problems on the contrary, so he said to me that if I didn’t help him, he would finish playing hockey. In the end he played until 36! After this player I had more and more others. Often, they would say that during practising they ‘were breaking’, traumatizing. They wanted me to train them. From that very moment my new sphere of activity, as a coach, has started. In summer I mostly train them and if needed I make the therapy, rehabilitation. For the rest of the time, I often go to America where I work with some players. We have a particular group of guys with whom I’m working with, about twenty people. I’m constantly in touch with them.
— But still who are you: a coach or a doctor?
— I’m always more a doctor. My heart responds more to this side of my activity. Lately I’ve been talking to one of players about the fact that the most difficult in my work is to train aged players. It’s more probable that they’ll get some traumas, everything is broken much easier. With young ones, whose level of hormones is on its highest, it’s simpler because there are less traumas. However, if you train the young and they break something trained by you, so it basically means you’re a bad coach. But you really need to ‘put a lot of efforts’ to make it possible. Often, we forget that after finishing the career the players just live enjoying the moments which were missed before on ice. They want to spend their time with their families, play with their kids but not to sit in a wheelchair. That’s why we need to think from the very beginning how the player will act in a game and what they need to improve and afterwards to give it gradually, controlling everything in order to avoid any trauma.
— Do you work with the players in a psychological way, control their nutrition or you are only responsible for their physical conditions?
— I am only responsible for the medical part and the fitness of the players. I have some acquaintances who are responsible just for these additional things in particular. It’s hard to be an expert in everything. I know where my area of responsibility begins and ends, and I work exclusively within it. I recommend them psychologists who help them, there are guys who work with nutrition. Many of my players, who have been with me for a long time, about 10 years, like Markus Krüger and Johnny Oduya, help the new guys with it, and with nutrition as well.
— What is more significant in hockey: physical strength or good technique of owning a puck and good ice-skating skills?
— In hockey, the main thing is that the player has enough time to play hockey. They need to be able to interpret the situation correctly. I cannot help with this, because it needs to be worked on the ice. Even a process of training in the gym is very far from hockey itself. If there is time, then, of course, it would be perfect to work out, but if my players say that they have little time since they have important matches soon, then I want them to be more on the ice at this time and engage in hockey directly. Nowadays, many people think that training in the gym is very necessary in development. Yes, I myself work in this, but these thoughts from the outside strongly instill into them. It makes them more interested in working in the gym than on the ice. I don’t want us to move in this direction now. At this moment, some people are hiring individual coaches even on the ice. But hockey is a team sport. You need to learn to play with people. I can understand the fact that a personal coach is essential to work out the small details, but you still need to maintain a balance between all of this. However, the most important thing in hockey is speed! It is important to be able to pick it up, stop in time and turn around quickly. We talk a lot about this, because many new players come and say that they want to play at a good level for all three periods, they’d like to be resilient. But then we find out why endurance isn’t enough: the reason is that a person doesn’t keep up with the puck and the other hockey players on the ice, or the whole point is just in endurance. In general, the results show that stamina is weak because of other players simply being much faster. It costs you a lot of energy to keep up with them. That’s why, if you begin by developing endurance right away, then it will not help you since the problem lies elsewhere, in speed, to be precise. It determines a lot.
— How do you identify with a player on what you will need to work with him in summer: do you discuss his wishes, the wishes of the coaches from his club, or do you yourself see what needs to be done?
— I always decide it myself. I can, for sure, listen to what the coaches want from them, but they work with them for the whole season. Basically, there is only one request which is to become faster. If all the players are gathered and asked what they would like from training, they will say that they need speed. That’s always a problem. Some people sometimes need to gain weight. But then other problems are posed, since, having gained 3-4 kilograms, the player loses in speed. So, when an athlete comes and says that he needs to gain some weight and improve his speed, this is the most difficult situation. The easiest way is to work with big by weight players, you just need to help them lose their weight, then the problems will be immediately solved with speed. But here if you work directly on speed, it can take several years. Each time the player will be definitely faster than before, but in order to achieve the main goal, you need to spend a couple of years working on it.
— But yet, if, a person comes to you to improve their speed, what do you start to work on first of all?
— I always approach this not superficially but try to look deeper. This is inherent in us from birth. Nobody taught us to walk correctly, we ourselves begin to do it in one way or another. So here it is the same thing. We have a certain program, in which there is a stereotype that gives a particular understanding of how it should look right. That’s why, I immediately look at which things are absent in this stereotype. The players, as they learned wrong initially, they continue to live like that. Either no one tells them about it, or if they do, it is very complicated to change it. But I take it up. I work with this human inherent base. For three weeks we are already achieving good results, which the player hasn’t had before. When we change everything at this level, then we can approach other things. Basically, we can even improve speed without focusing precisely on it. For example, let’s take a hockey player who for some reason played on the ice for 2 minutes without any break and shift of players. When he goes to change, it is clear that he is not going straight, but going unsteady. This «swing» is always there, it may be almost invisible, but it exists. If you work with this, then this tottering can be removed, thereby increasing speed since each movement back and forth is already a few milliseconds. I want the guys to go and run straight, because otherwise a risk of injury increases, and speed is lost. When we have worked all this out, we are already looking further, what else could prevent from achieving better speed. But I repeat that the basis is this very stereotype. This is a tedious job that requires concentration and strength. But it definitely works. This is the secret of our work with the guys, but I can freely speak about it, because no one will be able to repeat it. Of course, there are other technologies that are available to everyone, which everyone uses in their work, but they are not so effective.
— Are you in touch with your players’ club coaches who emphasize what needs to be worked on with this or that athlete?
— We discuss these topics with some coaches from NHL, yes. However, in Sweden, it’s less frequently because a lot of them see me as a rival. Guys come to me by the recommendations from other players, because they can observe a good result. But clubs want players to do exactly what club coaches want them to do. Although this is a completely different level, lower than the one at which I train my guys. I was also summoned to work in clubs, but then I will have to adjust to the system of a club, and it will be impossible to work the way I used to. In addition, they have their own traditions. If something once brought success, then they will ask me to do my job so as not to deviate from this tradition. In that case, my activity will not bring such good results. And I will also have to leave my business. I don’t want all of that. Actually, there are many cases of injuries during physical training in Swedish clubs. Although I heard similar things about Russia, like during the first two weeks of the season there are only continuous injuries. In Sweden the same thing, only it lasts for a longer period.
— I heard that in Swedish clubs the preseason is different from what we are used to see in Russia. If in Russia the whole team gathers and trains, then in Sweden everyone is responsible for themselves, works independently, and afterwards there’s only a little light training with the team. Is it so?
— The Swedish usually begin to prepare for the next season at the end of this current one, July is more or less free for them, and then they train again at the beginning of August. At this time, a lot of the Swedish are training. There is no need to run after them. I don’t know how it functions in Russia, but in Sweden the players are very categorical towards themselves, they know what they need to do, and they just do it all the time. There has always been such a tradition that you will work on yourself even when you have a vacation. I guess now players everywhere come to this. If 10 years ago, after a vacation, some players went on the ice and could not stand on skates normally, nowadays there is very high competition among hockey players. You need to be in your best shape. Now guys are training just not to become the worst ones, and if they want to become the best, then this is a huge problem because now absolutely everyone is training. You have to think in advance what you can do besides training to become better, because training is no longer an advantage in this fierce competition. The number of people who want to work out individually with skills coaches is increasing every day. If you are Ovechkin or Datsyuk, then you don’t need to think about anything, you are an awesome player but if you are someone a little lower, then you need to think about how to develop yourself. But if Ovechkin and Datsyuk still train very hard, then you definitely have large problems. It is very complicated to compete on ice with the people who both have the maximum genetics and train hard.
— If one of players comes to you from NHL and the other from SHL, and the third is from KHL, will you treat everyone in the same manner to prepare them to the season or it’ll be different for everyone?
— It’ll be same. We will work, first of all, on what I said earlier, about the stereotype, it needs to be changed right away, and then everything will depend on the quantity of time. If you came to me from the NHL and ended the season early without getting to the play-off, then you would have three months. If you are from the KHL, then you must return to the team in July and at the same to have enough time to have a rest, so there are about 5-6 weeks are given for training. But despite of time, we set not only one ambitious goal, but also micro goals for seven days. Every week should improve something. If there are three weeks, for example, then you cannot be occupied by something all this time, and afterwards just see the results only on the fourth week. We don’t have time for this, here every day counts. If some week has not provided a positive result, we have to change something immediately.
— 2020. Pandemic. How did it affect your activity? Did you have a break in your work or, on the contrary, the stop of professional sport gave a chance to the players to train more of the time with you and not in their clubs?
— This year has been the busiest for me. I’ve never worked so much. All my clients with whom I worked in Sweden came to me, so there were a lot of hockey players who left to train. The year was productive, but there was a lot of work. I had even to refuse a lot because if we continued like that, there would be nothing left of the players. My guys approached the season in a good physical shape. The pandemic affected hockey probably because of the fact that in addition to shape, a good teamwork is essential as well. There were too little trainings on the ice during that period, and that’s why understanding of the game was a bit lost. Besides you, there are four other players on the ice with whom you need to interact. But in general, I think the absence of injuries can say a lot about a good player’s preparation for the season. For me this is one of the main indicators of a hockey player’s training. In the NBA, for example, at the very beginning of the season several players were eliminated because of injuries, they were for too long in a state of waiting without active preparation. In Sweden we had few injuries because people were training all that time. The only profit of this situation is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone experienced this difficult time and prepared as best they could. Actually, this summer can be called easier than the last ones, because then everyone really wanted to work hard but now everyone wants to relax.
— What other athletes do you train besides hockey players?
—- I also have golfers and mountain climbers. All of them are also professional athletes. I haven’t had any tennis players for a long time. Before that I worked with Timofey Skatov, who represented Russia and Kazakhstan. But after the pandemic I haven’t met him yet. I had crossfit guys, but I stopped working with them. That’s not my cup of tea. I don’t want to see how they work actively to break themselves afterwards, this is some kind of masochism. I also stopped working with footballers. Hockey has somehow gained a foothold in my life; I am comfortable working with hockey players. I understand both the sport itself and the players. I worked for the Swedish ice hockey team for 3 years. So it makes no sense to me choose other areas. Now hockey for me from all sports is in the first place. It is widespread here in Sweden, so everything goes well.
— Do you train with your players only ‘on the ground’ or go on the ice with them as well?
— It also happens. I don’t know how to skate, but we do some exercises on ice. Players often laugh at me when I skate (laughs). But I skate normally since I roller-skated, but I have some issues with the brakes, I always pull up with my hands. Actually, I leave the main part of trainings on ice to my colleagues who are professionals in this. We must respect each other. I want to be respected as well when they see that I am an expert in a certain field, and don’t interfere in the process just as I don’t interfere in their part of the work.
— Recently I saw “stories” where you wrote that now there are even more elite coaches for the elite athletes than the elite athletes themselves. Is there really so much competition among coaches in Sweden?
— No, it’s not even a matter of competition. It was a post with an undercurrent of sarcasm that many coaches nowadays pretend to be elite, like they train professional athletes but when you ask who they worked with, they are silent, and we immediately lose sight of them. To my mind, this is not professionalism on their part. Very few coaches work with the elite-level athletes, we all know each other so these impostors can be easily figured out.
— How did you get into the Swedish national hockey team?
— It was about 6 years ago. Niklas Kronwall, who was then playing in Detroit, started to come to me. I started to heal him. This year he must have been the captain of the Swedish national team. At that moment the coaches of the main team were Rikard Grönborg and Johan Garpenlöv who were looking for a specialist of my field. That was exactly Niklas who recommended me to the national team. The point of my position was to restore to health a player as quickly as possible after a serious injury. My first trip with them was to the World Cup of Hockey where we did not go far, losing to the European team. Then I went to work in Dallas. In 2017, I again went with the national team to the World Cup in Germany in Köln. We won gold there. Then there was an interesting moment before the finals. Our goalkeeper was Henrik Lundqvist who had a serious injury. We worked a lot with him, and until recently we did not know whether he would return to the squad or no, the next day, when there was the final against Canada. He came back and played a great match. There was a shootout winning thanks to him. I even have a photograph of me standing and crying. Then I was completely knocked out of reality. That day for the first time I felt truly like a part of Sweden. It is very difficult to describe the feelings that I experienced then. In 2018, we went to the Olympics in Pyeongchang. After that I finished my work in the national team. I still can return but at the moment I’m having a break from it. Now my Canadian friend works in the Russian national team, he is engaged in the physical training of the players. So, perhaps I will come back to Russia in several years. It would be interesting to work with the Russian team. When you get older, you are somehow more attracted to your homeland. There is something in this. But, if I come, then probably only to work, and then return to Sweden again. Here I have my friends, home, child, and I have even my own clinic here. It will be difficult to lose it all. But getting experience with the Russian team would be cool. I also have some experience working with the Finnish national team. It is always catchy to watch and compare how everything is arranged in different places, and how the way the players behave.
— And did you have any special feelings when you met with the Russian national team at international competitions?
— Well, I don’t know. I communicate with some players of the Russian national team. I talked to Artemi Panarin and even worked with him when he was in Stockholm. Once Pavel Datsyuk and I got stuck in the elevator together. He still remembers me. I find this is a normal relationship. Nobody fights with anyone. I can’t know what people think when they watch hockey, but in general all the players know each other. Usually, friendly relations are built between people here. But still since I am part of the Swedish national team, then I classify myself as a part of them. Players, on the other hand, often change teams and when they come to a particular club, they become part of it and try to win with that club. So it is the same situation with me with the national team. That’s why, it is very complicated to describe the emotions when you win or lose with it.
— Do you come to Russia?
— I just wanted to come to Russia, but the pandemic overset my plans. I haven’t been there for a very long time, about 20 years. But basically, I work with the guys who play in KHL. So, I still have a connection with Russia. So, for example, I worked with the goalkeeper of «Torpedo» Nizhny Novgorod Anders Lindbäck who returned to the club after our work with him, and we might say he has changed fundamentally. The coach of the goalkeepers asked him what had happened to him as he began to act much better on the ice. This is interesting because the result is noticed by another person, not yourself. Sometimes I can imagine myself that the player and I have achieved some goal, because I want to believe in it but in fact, everything may be not so. And when the other person takes a fresh look at everything, it means that everything is going right!
— Have you ever had any experience of a coach work with Russian hockey players?
— No, I mostly train Swedish hockey players, but I’ve had experience of working with the Finns. I often went to Helsinki five years ago. There I worked with Leo Komarov, for example. In general, we could communicate with him in three languages. I really like him. But now I don’t have enough time, so I work in Stockholm.
— Which of your wards the Russian audience will be interested to observe next season?
— I helped Malte Strömwall two years ago who now plays in St. Petersburg. Mario Kempe is also my player, but I can’t know yet which team he will play in finally. If I’m not mistaken Dennis Rasmussen moved from “Metallurg” to “HC Davos”. Joakim Nordström will play for CSKA this season. I also have guys who now play in “Jokerit” and many in NHL. So there will be someone to follow this year!
Text: Lilia Artyukhina
Photos: Vladimir Egorov, Jimmy Wickström