Who is Sam Hallam?
by Andy Potts|23 MAY 2023
Sweden's head coach Sam Hallam at the 2023 World Championship in Tampere, Finland.
Outside of Sweden, Sam Hallam was not exactly a household name ahead of this year’s World Championship. That’s changing fast for the Tre Kronor head coach.

The 43-year-old, who took over from Johan Garpenlov at the start of the season, can secure top spot in Group A if his team defeats the USA on Tuesday. He’s got this far with the best defence in the competition – just three goals allowed in six games – and could be poised to get the Swedes back among the medals for the first time since 2018.

So who is Sam Hallam, and what makes “Hallam Hockey” a hit?

Lakers legend
In an era when clubs change coaches almost on a whim, Hallam’s 10-year stay behind the bench at Vaxjo Lakers stands out. When he arrived in 2012 as assistant to Janne Karlsson, he was expected to spend time learning about life in the SHL. Instead, he was thrust into the limelight when Karlsson was dismissed during that first season. By 2014/15, only Hallam’s second full season as a head coach in the top flight, he was winning the first of three championships. More glory followed in 2018 and 2021.

That success made Hallam a natural candidate to replace Garpenlov, despite his lack of international experience. The handover was announced back in September 2021 and Hallam replaced Garpenlov at the start of this season, going on to impress in a successful Euro Hockey Tour campaign.

Doing the basics
In his relatively modest playing career, Hallam played defence for second tier outfit Bofors IK. So it’s no surprise that his Sweden team starts with a clear vision of its defensive identity. Goalie Lars Johansson, Garpenlov’s first choice at the Beijing Olympics, summed up the approach.

“We start with the simple things,” Johansson said. “He's a good coach and he knows how what kind of system he wants to play. That makes it easy for us. 

“It starts with the defence, and then everything else will come, basically. It's a good group of guys that sacrifice for each other and work hard and give 100 percent in our own end, blocking shots and then clearing rebounds away.”

Lack of international experience has been no obstacle to good results so far. Henrik Tommernes, another player with several years on the Tre Kronor, points out that although Hallam is young, he has been coaching for a long time and knows how he wants to set up his teams.

“He has a good eye for the game,” said the defender. “He knows what he’s doing and he’s precise about what he wants from us. 

“With his coaches, they’ve been working all year and finding a system that’s easy to play. Everyone buys in, and that’s been our strength so far.

“He has a good gameplan, he makes good speeches before the game to get everyone focussed and dialled in. That’s got the players playing good hockey here so far.”

A desire for daring
So far, so familiar. Coaches have banged the “defences win championships” drum since forever. But Hallam is also alert to changing trends in the game. Speaking to journalists during the World Championship, he is excited by the rise of young talent across the world. From Team USA’s impressive college cohort in Tampere to the biggest new names in the NHL, Hallam sees a new generation bringing a new approach.

“You see these guys, they can skate, they do amazing things with the puck,” he said. “It’s very skill-based. These players dare, the mentality is changing fast in hockey.”

Sweden, too, has its prospects in Tampere. Rasmus Sandin, Jonatan Berggren, Leo Carlsson, Lucas Raymond and Fabian Zetterlund are all 23 or under and each has contributed here. These are not players who are easily confined in a rigid system and Hallam himself says he’d like to see a bit more bravery from his team.

That’s maybe why the other thing that emerges from talking to Sweden’s players is the atmosphere around the team.

“All around, on and off the ice, a lot of the guys are happy,” said captain Jakob Silfverberg. “When we’re on the ice, obviously, we have to lock in. But besides that we’re allowed to have fun together. It’s not super strict. Overall, it’s an easy atmosphere but a lot of fun.”