Before the Sedin brothers were great with the Vancouver Canucks, they were great in Sweden.
But the transition to North America during their rookie NHL season of 2000-2001 and the next few years nearly derailed them.
What allowed the brothers to flourish, according to research being conducted by education Prof. Carolyn Crippen and doctoral student David Nagel at the University of Victoria, was Daniel’s and Henrik’s inherent use of the servant leadership philosophy.
“They were called soft, they were called sisters, they were called lots of things, but they decided to stay in Vancouver and it was a key moment of their life,” says Crippen, a Victoria resident who had never watched hockey until she stumbled upon the Sedins in 2011. Their bushy red beards of the time stood out, she says.
Using traits exhibited by successful servant leaders, the Sedins prevailed as honourable, respectful athletes in a violent and intimidating arena. Crippen and Nagel have captured those traits and their benefits in two international journal articles about servant leadership.
“Their decision to stay was a crucial stage in their development,” Crippen says.
The research has included site visits to games, practices and interviews with the Sedins at Rogers Arena, as well as with television and print media members Dan Murphy and Ian MacIntyre (who’ve watched the Sedins since Day 1).
Crippen and Nagel have also documented countless hours of the brothers’ behaviour on the ice. If it’s game night, Crippen has the TV or radio on while she scribbles constant observations.
“I really knew little about hockey before this started,” she said of the research study which has “taken on a life of it’s own.”
With the Vancouver Canucks organization on board to grant the researchers full access, their studies are now focused on a third scholarly article planned for publication in 2016.
That’s in addition to their initial paper in a 2013 edition of the PHEnix Journal and this summer’s update in the International Journal of Servant-Leadership.
The Sedins learned their values from a family and community that stressed inclusivity. They speak highly of their elder brothers, who modelled their parents’ values of fairness.
“When the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, the players were upset and the Sedins were the only players who stayed to answer every question from the media,” Crippen says. “They didn’t try to avoid it, they were forthright and honoured their role and responsibility.”
For Nagel, it’s been a treat to study subjects in the sport he always loved. He can still recall listening to the games on radio while falling asleep as a kid. Now the father of a young family also gives back as a coach with the Victoria Ice Hawks midget house team (ages 15 to 17).
“In a way, (it’s changed the way I think about hockey), but I think aging has had more of an affect,” he says. “Victoria Minor Hockey Association takes a ‘whole person’ developmental approach … using hockey as a vehicle for supporting growth in individuals.” In that sense, he adds, it coincides with servant leadership.
Nagel and Crippen hope the Sedins’ model of a servant-leader attitude can be a beacon for youth in hockey today.