Friday, August 10, 2012

Maple Leafs Swedish Experiment, 1963

“I foresee a lot of Europeans trying out for the National Hockey League in the near future. Sweden has made tremendous strides in hockey recently, so have Norway, Finland, Switzerland and West Germany. They are catching up to Canada in developing good, young hockey players.” New York Rangers General Manager Muzz Patrick is quoted by the Canadian Press on Aug 20, 1963. He was referring to the fact that Swede Ulf Sterner had agreed to report to the upcoming Rangers training camp.
In 1963, the 20 year-old Sterner had been a large part of Sweden’s surprise showing in the World Championships and counted a hat-trick in Sweden’s 5-3 win over Canada. According to Patrick, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs were also high on signing Sterner before the Rangers beat them to the punch.
Speaking of ‘Punch’, Leafs General Manager Imlach was not to be shutout of the European invasion as two other members of Sweden’s silver medal winning squad, goaltender Kjell Svensson and forward Karl Oberg were invited to attend Toronto’s 1963 training camp. The two players showed well in early stages of the camp in Peterborough, Ontario and joined the squad on an exhibition western road trip in late September. Svensson had apparently had a rough go of it early on as the CP reported on Sept. 23 that he suffered a partially paralyzed right arm from a shot by Larry Jeffrey during a game against Detroit. Svensson had taken over for Johnny Bower in the third period of a 6-1 loss. A few days earlier in another game with Detroit Svensson had once again replaced Bower in the third and stopped 10 of 11 shots in a 6-6 draw. The only man to beat him, Gordie Howe.

Meanwhile, Karl Oberg was chipping in as well. In Vancouver against the WHL Canucks he notched a goal as the Leafs won 6-3, assisted  by Eddie Shack. Svensson gave up 2 goals in his third period of play to Bob McCusker and Buddy Boone. A couple days after this match the Leafs played in Vancouver once again a squad of WHL All-Stars that included among others Don Cherry.
By the time the Leafs had returned to Toronto to play the NHL All-Stars in the season kick-off, the experiment was over.  Oberg and Svensson had been let go and returned to Sweden. Goalie Svensson returned to Sodertalje and competed for his country in the Olympics and World Championships until he retired in 1970. Oberg returned home to play for Djurgardens as well as  in two more Olympics before retiring in 1973.

As for Sterner, he would play a mere four games for the Rangers with no points but scored 44 points in 52 games with Baltimore of the AHL before returning to star at home. He played regularly until 1978 and amassed 304 goals in Swedish League play. He also returned in 1989/90 at age 48 to play one game with Hammaro HC of the Swedish Second Division.

I own the program pictured above, from the exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Leafs with their two Swedish tryouts. According to the Vancouver Sun, this was the first time the programs had been sold for 50 cents after being 25 cents previously. Also, apparently there was only 500 of this program printed due to a problem at the printing press. The Exhibition Forum in Vancouver still stands today and is used really only during the two-week Pacific National Exhibition each summer.

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