Monday, November 29, 2010
On this date in 1978, Bjørn Skaare became the first Norwegian born player in NHL history when he appeared for the Detroit Red Wings in a 2-2 tie against the Colorado Rockies.
It would be the only NHL game of Skaare's career.
He was born in Oslo, Norway on October 29, 1958 and, despite suffering from asthma, moved to Sweden to play junior hockey the Färjestads BK junior team for the 1976-77 season in order to face tougher competition and improve his game beyond what was available in Norway. He played well enough at age 19, when he scored 21 goals and 41 points in 40 games, to earn nine games with the Färjestads BK senior team that year.
Making a serious effort to see how far his talent could take him, he made the bold and unusual move for the era and relocated to Canada the next year to play of the Ottawa 67's of the QMJHL in Canadian junior hockey where he adapted to the North American game quickly, scoring more than a point per game, with 42 points in 38 games. His performance attracted the attention of NHL scouts, which led to his being drafted 62nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft, giving him the honor of being the first Norwegian ever drafted by an NHL club.
He began the 1978-79 season with the Kansas City Red Wings of the CHL and played well there, earning himself a call up to Detroit, with whom he made his NHL debut on this date in 1978. After registering a shot on goal, Skaare was checked heavily by the rugged Barry Beck and suffered an injury, which apparently made such an impression on him that he reportedly requested to be sent back to Kansas City, ending his NHL career after just one game. Once back in Kansas City he finished the season with 34 points in 37 games in all. At the conclusion of the season, Skaare, nicknamed "Botta", returned to Europe to compete for Norway in the 1979 World Championships B Pool where he scored two goals and four points in four games.
For the following season his North American efforts came to and end, and Skaare remained at home in Oslo where he joined Furuset IF. There he put his skills to good use, scoring 23 goals and 46 assists in 27 games, helping Furuset IF earn their first championship in 26 years.
Skaare simply dominated the following season when he was the league leader in goals (38), assists (34) and points (72) on his way to being named the league MVP. Following the season he again played for Norway at the World Championships B Pool.
For the 1981-82 season, Skaare was signed by Austrian powerhouse Klangenfurter AC and again used his offensive skills to dominate with 27 goals and 58 points in just 28 games and was named the league's best player. Still, the pull of his homeland of Norway won out again, and Skaare returned to Furuset IF to lead them to the league championship in 1983, a season in which he averaged a goal a game with 31, and in 1983-84 he once again averaged more than two points per game, this time with 26 goals and 54 points in 23 games.
Skaare then had the honor of playing for Norway in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, highlighted by a 3-3 tie with the defending Olympic gold medalists the United States where Skaare assisted on two of Norway's three goals.
Following the conclusion of the Olympic Games, Skaare returned to the United States to play with the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL for their final two games at the end of the regular season while under the most difficult circumstances, as the Oilers had actually suspended operations in mid February when it's owners went bankrupt, but the other teams in the league paid to keep the Oilers operating to maintain a balanced schedule.
The most unusual factor of the plan to keep the Oilers functional was that since the other teams were paying to keep the team going, and there was no longer an ownership group running the club in Tulsa, all the Oilers remaining games during the final six weeks of the season were moved out of Tulsa in order for the teams footing the bill to collect as many gate receipts as possible, meaning for the Oilers played only road games for six weeks!
Through all that, the Oilers qualified for the playoffs and the hired gun Skaare scored nine points in nine games to tie for the team playoff scoring lead with NHL veteran Robbie Ftorek and future NHLer Grant Ledyard for the team scoring lead help the vagabond Oilers capture the Adams Cup as CHL champions just prior to the entire league disbanding following the playoffs.
For the following season, Skaare would return to Norway for good, joining Furuset IF for his third stint with the team, producing 67 points and 32 goals in 35 games in 1984-85 prior to moving to SK Bergen for the final two seasons of his career.
Sadly, at just 30 years of age, on June 21, 1989 Skaare died from injuries he suffered in a car accident taking away a Norwegian hockey legend and arguably still the greatest player Norway has ever produced.
Today's featured jersey is a 1984-85 Furuset IF Bjørn Skaare jersey. It's typical of European jerseys of it's era, with corporate sponsorship making itself known, but not overwhelming the player in the manner in which today's jerseys do.
Today's video section is a profile of Skaare from Norwegian TV. While we can't understand Norwegian, it does contain some footage of him on skates as well a brief clip of an old interview with Skaare himself.