Friday, February 25, 2011
Having first played for his hometown club of MoDo in Ornskosvik, Sweden at the age of 16, Anders Hedberg, born on this date in 1951, settled into the normal career pattern for high level European players - establishing himself with a club team and annual appearances at the World Championships with his national team each spring.
Hedberg made an immediate impression with 12 goals and 18 points in 24 games in 1967-68. He also made his first of many appearances for Sweden when he played in the European Junior Championships in 1968 with 7 points in 5 games.
His second season with MoDo saw his confidence grow as he topped the point per game mark with 23 points in 19 games. He also scored 5 goals in 5 games in the 1969 European Juniors on his way to being named Swedish Junior Player of the Year for 1969.
He repeated as Swedish Junior Player of the Year in 1970 after 24 points in 14 games for MoDo and 6 goals in 5 games during his third consecutive European Juniors. He was also named to the senior Sweden National Team for the World Championships in 1970, where he scored 5 points in 9 games while just having turned 19.
After two more seasons with MoDo and another World Championshps in 1973, Hedberg moved to Djurgardens IF in Stockholm for the 1973-74 season and what would prove to be his final appearance for some time with the national team at the 1974 World Championships where he again impressed with 7 goals and 10 points in 10 games.
It's at this point that the words "typical" and "usual" get thrown out the window, as over in North America the hockey landscape was undergoing a revolutionary war between the established, if not staid, National Hockey League and the upstart World Hockey Association, which had made a splash in 1972 by singing Chicago Black Hawks star Bobby Hull for $1 million to play for the Winnipeg Jets.
With the two leagues competing for players to fill 14 WHA and 18 NHL rosters, up from just 14 NHL teams in 1971-72 before the arrival of the WHA, teams now began to look beyond the borders of North America for really the first time. There had been the odd cases of players born in Europe who migrated to Canada in their youth, and even some Europeans who had brief stays in the NHL, Europeans were generally regarded as inferior players who were not tough enough to survive in the NHL.
That stereotype began to fade in 1973 with the arrival in Toronto of left wing Inge Hammarstrom and even more so defenseman Borje Salming, who would go on to play 17 seasons in the NHL. Hammarstrom would play in six NHL seasons and score a high of 24 goals and 43 points, but did not set the world on fire.
It was at this point that the Jets would look to Sweden and sign not only Hedberg, but fellow Swede Ulf Nilsson and team them up with Hull.
The result was simply the most dynamic line in the history of the WHA.
The trio would light up scoreboards all over the league, with each player reaching 100 points with Hedberg's 100 coming on 53 goals and 47 assists in 65 games which was good for seventh overall in the league and WHA Rookie of the Year honors.
1975-76 would again see the trio of Hull (53 goals, 123 points), Nilsson (114 pts.) and Hedberg (105 pts.) all top 100 points and the Jets improve 25 points in the standings to capture the Canadian Division title. Once in the playoffs, the Jets would sweep the Edmonton Oilers in 4, oust the Calgary Cowboys in 5 and sweep the Aeros in 4 to capture their first WHA championship and the Avco World Trophy as the line combined for 32 goals and 65 points in 13 games.
Hedberg was again chosen as a member of the Swedish National Team, this time for the inaugural Canada Cup in the fall of 1976, scoring 5 points in 5 games.
While Hull was limited to just 34 games of the 1976-77 regular season Hedberg stepped up and led the team with a career high 131 points which saw him finish second overall in the league, which he led with 70 goals. The Jets returned to the finals to defend their title but lost in seven games to the Quebec Nordiques.
Hedberg was fourth in WHA scoring in 1977-78 with 122 points and second on the Jets behind Nilsson. His 63 goals were first on the Jets and second in the WHA. He also led the Jets in playoff scoring with 15 points in 9 games as the Jets again captured the league championship.
The line of Hull, Hedberg & Nilsson celebrate their championship
With their contracts having expired and the WHA on the ropes, down to just seven teams from 14 three seasons earlier, Hedberg and Nilsson signed with the New York Rangers of the rival NHL for the 1978-79 season.
While Hedberg would never reach the scoring heights he achieved with Winnipeg, he was a regular 30 goal scorer while a member of the Rangers, hitting 30 or more four times, 25 once and 20 in his final season, in which he was limited to 64 games. Following his final NHL season of 1984-85, Hedberg was named the winner of the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
He also was a member of the NHL All-Star Team in the 1979 Challenge Cup against the Soviet National Team.
While his obligations to the Jets and Rangers during the spring playoff season prevented him from ever taking part in the World Championships for Sweden after coming to play in North America, Hedberg was able to get one final chance to play for Sweden in the 1981 Canada Cup, held in the fall prior to the start of the NHL season, where he scored 6 points in 5 games in his final international appearance.
In 1997, Hedberg was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
Today's featured jersey is a 1975-76 Winnipeg Jets Anders Hedberg jersey. The Jets were a founding member of the WHA and adopted this jersey style for their second season of 1973-74, which they would wear for the remainder of their time in the WHA. The Jets would adopt a new style jersey for the 1979-80 season, their first as a member of the NHL.
During this particular season the Jets wore a patch on each shoulder commemorating Canada's hosting of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. While the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL understandably wore the patch, Toronto, Quebec, Edmonton and Calgary of the WHA and Toronto and Vancouver of the NHL did not, leaving us to wonder why the patriotism and support of Montreal's Olympic Games from the Winnipeg club and none of their other fellow Canadians?
Another surprising element of this jersey is the crudely shaped numbers on the back, which look as if they may have been hand cut, a far cry from today's uniformly identical machine cut twill numbers.
Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1976 Sweden National Team Anders Hedberg jersey from the 1976 Canada Cup, which features the traditional three crowns cresting, known as the "Tre Kroner".
In all, Hedberg competed for Sweden on seven occasions, resulting in 30 goals and 51 points in 54 games.