Raoul Le Mat - Born September 3, 1875 in Paris, France – Died February 15, 1947 in Panama City, Panama was an American (French) ice Hockey coach and pioneer.
Le Mat was the son of an American from New Orleans and raised in the United States. He has been claimed as a film director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / MGM and does have 1 short film credit for MGM in Stockholm. His travelling papers to Europe in January 1919, have him as a occupation of "Exporter" and he was engaged in importing films for Swedish movie theatres.
Le Mat had played ice Hockey as a youth and young adult, and was a prominent speed skater while living in New York City. When he got to Sweden in the winter of 1919, he took a fascination to the game of Bandy being played there on the large outdoor ice rinks. Sweden was, and still are great Bandy players, which is a cousin of ice Hockey. Bandy was the predominant winter team sport in Sweden at the time.
In September 1919, Le Mat met with influential secretary of the Swedish Soccer Federation, Mr. Anton Johansson, and tried to persuade Johansson to enter a team in the upcoming ice Hockey tournament that would be part of the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium during the summer.
The tournament from April 23 to 29 was played at the Palais de Glace d'Anvers.
At that time Bandy was organized in the Soccer Federation, which was the reason why Le Mat pursued Johansson about the participation of Sweden.
The discussions and the planning accelerated at the turn of the year 1919/20. The program for the Antwerp Games had arrived with the confirmation that ice Hockey was to be part of the Olympic Games.
At the end of January the Soccer Federation had made up its mind; they would go for an Olympic ice Hockey team. Raoul Le Mat was made coach. Having had earlier experience with ice Hockey in the United States.
Le Mat knew the Swedes were good Bandy players - but ice Hockey was different, and training was really needed. Ernest Wiberg (Viberg) was appointed assistant coach. He was a Swedish sports leader who had emigrated to the United States but was now visiting his old country.
The team was to be built around three players with experience from ice Hockey in Germany. Hans Georgii had played in Germany in 1911-1914, in Berliner Schlittschuh Club to be precise, and had been considered to be the best right wing on the continent. Nisse Molander had belonged to the same club since 1911. He played rover and was the star of the team. The third player, David Säfwenberg, brother of the famous bandy goalkeeper “Sleven” Säfwenberg, had also played in Berlin for the last two years, but for Berliner Sport Club. As centre-forward he was the leading goal scorer of his team.
The Soccer Federation promptly called a meeting to organize the training. On February 2, some 20 plus active Bandy players gathered, including the leading Bandy star of the period, Sune Almkvist. Ernest Wiberg explained the ice Hockey rules and Hans Georgii talked about the tactics of the game. It was agreed that the training would take place both in Uppsala and Stockholm.
After the tryouts and practices, Le Mat and Wiberg would select 2 goaltenders, Seth Howander [IFK Uppsala] and Albin “Abbe” Jansson [Järva IS] along with players Einar “Knatten” Lundell [IK Göta], Einar “Stor-Klas” Svensson [IK Göta], Georg “Fransman” Johansson [IK Göta], Wilhelm “Wille” Arwe [IK Göta], Erik Burman [IK Göta] and Einar “Linkan” Lindqvist [IFK Uppsala] who was later named team captain.
Ice Hockey sticks were a major problem. There were none to be gotten in Sweden, they had to be ordered from the United States at the beginning of the year. The sticks arrived by SS Stockholm at the beginning of February, but were held up in the customs at Gothenburg. Several customs officers had been suspended because of theft of incoming goods, and the Hockey sticks remained in Göthenburg for the entire ice training period. An attempt to manufacture Hockey sticks at Uppsala was unsuccessful. Thus Bandy sticks had to be used during training, which naturally made it hard to achieve the right stick technique until the proper American sticks finally arrived.
The rest of the equipment was not very ice Hockey-like. Ordinary Bandy equipment, consisting of sweater, trousers and stockings, was used. Only the goalkeeper, Albin Jansson, had acquired some sort of protective equipment: he wore his fencing equipment including the fencing mask. During the last training before the departure he found that one could not be careful enough. He took off the fencing mask before training was finished, and was hit by a
puck in the eye. This resulted in a black eye, and stopped him from participating in the first Games in Antwerp.
The team left Stockholm on April 7. There was a serious setback at the start, as the key player and intended captain of the Swedish team, Hans Georgii, had fallen ill and could not go. A replacement for Georgii was found in England - Hansjacob “Knubben” Mattsson, and he made his way to Antwerp to join the team.
The Swedish team tried to supplement their inadequate equipment in Berlin. This, however, was unsuccessful. Wiberg had to go to Brussels to try to acquire better equipment. He managed to purchase some, and the Swedes later borrowed some spare equipment from the American team.
The first training for the Swedish team in Antwerp took place on April 11, when they played five a side. The ice training then continued with two 30 minutes periods every day. It was then clear that the skating was good, but that the shooting ability was not up to standard. The training was not very efficient at first, since coach Le Mat did not arrive until a week later.
During training “Stor-Klas” Svensson was hit over the eye and had to have stitches, which was done by the masseur of the Canadian team, Gudmundur Sigurjonsson. The Swedish team had made good contact with the Canadian team, and especially with the masseur, Sigurjonsson. He assisted the Swedes all through the tournament, which really was a help since they played rough, were ill equipped and had to play many games.
The Swedish team watched Canada and the USA practice prior to the start of the tournament. The Swedes were impressed not only by the play of Canada/USA, but also by their equipment. The European teams almost completely lacked protective equipment - they only wore simple knee and leg pads. The Canadian & USA teams were, however, heavily protected: strong leg and knee pads, cane reinforced shorts, arm and shoulder pads and thick long leather gloves. Also the skates were different from the Bandy skates of the Swedish team. Instead of being low and plane, the blades were high and curved, which allowed them to make quick and low turns.
Oscar Söderlund, a reporter from the StockholmsTidningen compared transatlantic ice Hockey to European as “sparkling fresh champagne to stale cheap lager.”
Sweden would play 6 games in total, winning three - 8-0 vs Belgium, which was the 1st game in the tournament, with Erik Burman scoring the first ever goal for Sweden in international ice Hockey, and the first goal in Olympic history. Burman actually had the first hat-trick for Sweden and Olympic history, as he scored 3 goals in that 1st game. Seth Howander also had the first shutout in Swedish and Olympic history, along with back-stopping the first victory.
Sweden also won 4-0 vs France, 4-0 vs Switzerland, and losing three - 12-1 vs Canada, 7-0 vs USA and 1-0 vs Czechoslovakia in the final game of the tournament, which was for the bronze medal. On a positive note, the goal scored by Svensson during the game against Canada, was the only goal the Canadian team allowed during the tournament, as they won the Olympic Gold Medal. As a good will gesture, after the Canada / Sweden game, the Canadian team gave their sticks away to the Swedish players as a memento.
Le Mat, in addition to coaching Team Sweden, also refereed some other teams games while in Antwerp.
The Swedish players were properly celebrated on their arrival home. Of the eleven members of the team, seven returned to Stockholm, where the Swedish Soccer Federation gave a banquet shortly after the return. The players received the Federation’s silver medal, while coach Le Mat got a commemorative cup and the Federation’s international championship badge.
The tournament in Antwerp 1920 was later also recognized as the first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, also making it the first global IIHF-sanctioned ice Hockey tournament: Canada and the United States from North America, and Sweden as first Northern European nation.
As a reward for their strong showing at the Olympics, Sweden was later awarded to host the 1921 ice Hockey championship by the IIHF, but It didn’t become a World Championship yet as hoped because Canada and the U.S. eventually didn’t travel to Stockholm. But one year after Antwerp, host Sweden avenged the loss against Czechoslovakia to win the 1921 European ice Hockey championship with a 7-4 victory played on February 18, 1921. Le Mat was the referee for this game, which was also the first international game in Sweden.
Le Mat helped found the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation (Svenska Ishockeyförbundet), which was formed in 1922, providing more organizational muscle to efforts to convert bandy players into Hockey players. The sales pitch to sporting clubs around the country emphasized Hockey's smaller ice surface and the smaller number of players needed to field a team.
The Federation even donated Hockey sticks and electric lighting to a number of sports clubs to make it easier for them to start up Hockey programmes.
Le Mat also helped form an eight team Swedish national Hockey league in 1922, and was the referee for the first league final in 1922. Some of those eight teams, like Djurgardens IF and AIK, are still around professionally today.
Le Mat further cemented his place in Swedish ice Hockey (IsHockey) history by establishing, with financing from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / MGM film company, the Le Mat trophy. Since 1926, the Le Mat was been awarded to the Swedish ice Hockey champions. Today the trophy goes to the winner of Sweden's top ice Hockey league.
Swedish ice Hockey became arguably Europe's biggest Hockey powerhouse. After winning the European Championship in 1921, they got their first Olympic medal in 1928, a silver. Decades later, they finally won their first gold in 1994. They've won World championships, World Junior championships, club competition titles - almost every major title in Hockey that could have been won by a Swedish team has been won by a Swedish team.