Swedish hockey team welcomes investigation after match-fixing allegations

A man poses with a Swedish flag before the preliminary round of the men's hockey game between Sweden and Finland at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

We should not lose sight of assumed innocence until guilt is proven.

But it is not too often the CEO of a professional hockey team has to immediately come out and address allegations of match-fixing in the wake of a loss, as happened in the second-tier Swedish Allsvenskan on Monday night.

The team in question was the powerhouse Björklöven, which sits second overall in the league standings. Anders Blomberg, its CEO, said he welcomed the investigation that was launched within hours of an 8-4 loss to Mora in which Björklöven surrendered eight straight goals after building a 3-0 lead.

Of most concern was not anything that happened on the ice — although Twitter’s detectives were out in full force — but what happened on the betting market as that game flipped.

Björklöven entered the night as -130 favourites but only saw that extend to -150 while leading 3-1 after 10 minutes. The odds were seemingly holding because of money coming in on Mora, although the betting companies themselves will have to be scrutinized as part of the investigation by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation’s security department.

The gambling action was so unusual that some betting houses took the game right off the board. Mora mounted a big rally and scored six times on the power play. It was the first meeting of the teams this season.

“I hope that this is sorted out properly and that we turn over all the stones that can be turned over,” Blomberg said in Swedish, after first addressing the issue with his players and coaching staff. “Just the suspicion is serious enough, but if it turns out to be true, it is of course completely unacceptable and something that must never occur in our association. These players are trained in what applies in Björklöven and this is so far from the culture we stand for.

“I have an incredibly hard time believing that someone in Björklöven has been involved in such a type of activity. Of course, we welcome the fact that the question is being investigated when there are now suspicions and speculations.”

The ongoing investigation includes the involvement of police.

Naturally, the mere suggestion something was amiss generated considerable buzz in the other pro dressing rooms around Sweden on Tuesday morning. A handful of players contacted by Sportsnet had trouble believing that you’d ever get enough members of a team to agree to actually throw a game.

Consider this a potential downside to less restrictive sports gambling, which is coming soon to North America. Governments in both Canada and the U.S. have signalled their intention to loosen long standing restrictions and pro sports leagues — including the NHL — are warm to the idea of change.

There’s money to be made, after all.

“It’s another connection point to get people participating in our game and getting interested in our game,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently. “We think it’s an opportunity to continue to build our fanbase.”

The results of the investigation in Sweden will be interesting as both a case study and because of those involved. None more so than Connor Ingram, a well-regarded Nashville Predators prospect and former Canadian world junior player, who was in net for Björklöven and allowed five goals on 14 shots before being removed from the final start of his loan agreement to the club.

However, we should reserve judgment against him or any of his teammates.

Let us not forget that teams and players occasionally have bad nights, and some games just get away. A run of goals, poor defensive play and spotty rebound control do not in and of themselves actually tell us anything.

The powers that be at Björklöven were wise to welcome the federation’s deep dive into an ugly loss. Fairly or not, they’ve been put in a position where they have to prove there was no wrongdoing.

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