The Complete World Hockey Association

Anders Hedberg

Height: 5-11
Weight: 175
Shoot: L
Born: 25 Feb 1951, Ornskoldsvik Sweden


Regular Season & Playoff Scoring Record (key)

year team
1974-75 Winnipeg
1975-76 Winnipeg
1976-77 Winnipeg
1977-78 Winnipeg

• Winner, Lou Kaplan Trophy (Rookie of the Year), 1974-75.


Hedberg the Flying Swede: Winnipeg's Super Jet • by Reyn Davis • The Sporting News • December 17, 1977

A Russian ship tied up to the side of the dock where rows of cordwood lay. The still waters of the inlet off the Baltic Sea reflected the image of the timbered hills in the bright September sun.

Hot rods, not unlike the wheels of kids in Ogden, Utah, or Harrisburg, Pa., could be heard and seen, brazenly dragging up and down the streets of the Swedish coastal town.

This is Ornskoldsvik, hometown of hockey star Anders Hedberg, the young man they call the Swedish Express in faraway Canada where he plays for profit for the Winnipeg Jets.

Going home to play hockey with the touring Jets this fall was a traumatic experience for the seven Swedish players on the team.

Hedberg, like the others, found himself on trial. In two short hours he would be obliged to score at least two goals, play tough but fairly and teach the local youngsters how to be a professional hockey player.

"Okay, show us," they seemed to say, packing the arenas of Sweden to see the men who'd left the country to pursue careers in North America.

"I don't know if I'm a better hockey player in Sweden, but I know I'm a better hockey player in Canada," said Hedberg.

Usually the would-be pros — the Carlsons, Ahlbergs, Lundgrens, Leffsons, Erickssons and Fryklunds — were able to preserve their dignities by staying reasonably close or even beating the "foreigners."

It seemed difficult to accept the fact that Hedberg, the two-time WHA All-Star and the man who scored 51 goals in his club's first 49 games, would have to prove anything.

Gunnar, a reporter with the local paper, showed his clippings of a mid-winter trip to Winnipeg to do feature stories on the town's prize export.

Gunnar is one of about 15 Swedish reporters who each year come to North America to chronicle the deeds of their countrymen. Unlike the others, Gunnar's principle concern is one man from his hometown.

This is Hedberg's fourth professional season, and all of them have been spent in Winnipeg with the Jets ... or "Yets," as the Swedes in Sweden say.

He signed in May of 1974, along with Ulf Nilsson, just after the world hockey championship in Helsinki. Hedberg had almost unseated the great Russian, Valeri Kharlamov, as the world all-star right winger.

But Nilsson's world championship ended on an awful note. He was suspended for the whole championship when doctors discovered a forbidden drug in a cough syrup he was taking.

"I'd love to hear tapes of that first press conference in Winnipeg," said Hedberg, recalling their introduction to the Winnipeg media in 1974.

"We understood everything that was being said. Yes, we could understand. But to say what we meant, that was a big problem."

They fared well, better than anyone expected.

Today, both Hedberg and Nilsson earn $140,000, about double what they received in 1974.

And their price is going higher, as the market dictates. They signed identical, five-year contracts in 1976, enabling them to entertain National Hockey League offers at this juncture.

"The reasons we signed them to such a contract is that we didn't know, and they didn't know, what would be a fair price at that stage," said Bob Graham, the gas company president who is the Jets' board chairman. "We thought we'd let the market dictate."

The Jets have the hammer, however. An NHL club which signs one or both to a contract can't have them if the Jets counter with an offer within $20,000 of the NHL bid.

Presumably, only a mind-boggling offer by an NHL team could keep the Jets from exercising that option.

Hedberg has no regrets about turning pro.

"If I could do it again exactly the same way, I wouldn't hesitate at all,' said Hedberg, 26, a 70-goal scorer last season.

In his first three seasons, Hedberg compiled totals of 53-47-100, 50-55-105 and 70-61-131 while performing on one of hockey's most devastating lines, beside Nilsson and the great Bobby Hull.

The line actually was put together by the coach of the University of Winnipeg hockey team, Tom Marshall. It was Marshall who one evening in August of 1974 invited Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson to skate at his hockey school.

In three seasons, they combined for 472 goals.

Hedberg and Nilsson were the targets of unbelievable abuse in their early days in the WHA. Rival players saw the Swedes as serious threats to job opportunities in North American hockey.

Such thinking was ironic in that Americans pay millions to watch aliens (Canadians) play hockey in the U.S. To hear alien Canadians complain of outsiders made one wonder.

Their "fellow" pros literally tried to drive the Swedes into giving up and going home. But many of those same pros now are either out of the game or resigned to the fact that Swedes, like blacks in baseball, have a God-given right to contribute.

Somehow, Hedberg has managed to understand and has kept from becoming bitter. Today, he's a player rep and an assistant captain of his club, and an influential thinker.

Though fighting is frowned upon in Sweden, where a player is automatically suspended for two months for throwing punches, Hedberg is not averse to dropping his gloves and trading rights and lefts.

In hockey, it seems, the most artistic fighters fare worst. The guy who throws the most punches in a furious fit of anger usually makes the biggest impression and is left alone.

Lately, there have been cases of brawling in the WHA.

Hedberg's coach, Larry Hillman, would like to see the police become involved, since they're there to keep the peace anyway.

Hedberg would prefer to see the league police its own players.

"The league said it can handle these matters," said Hedberg. "But I don't think the league has tried hard enough."

Token suspensions of three games to Gilles Bilodeau, two games to Frank Beaton and one game to Coach Glen Sonmor, all of the Birmingham Bulls, were issued by Larry Gordon, WHA executive director, following a hearing.

"If he's telling them that this is a warning, I guess that's fine," said Hedberg. "But these guys have been in these situations before and been warned before, and they still act this way."

Hedberg is convinced the league has improved tremendously since his rookie year, when he was named the WHA's best newcomer.

"A couple of years ago, you could play below par and still win some nights," he said. "Now that's nol the case. Today, if you play below par, you won't win."

He would like to see more young players come into the WHA.

He is greatly interested in a young teammate, Kent Nilsson, a rookie from Sweden. In October, Kent threatened to skate away with the WHA scoring championship. But he has cooled off in recent weeks as the pace of the league picks up and the competitiveness grows.

"Kent still doesn't know what it's all about," said Hedberg, referring to the physical aspect of pro hockey. "If he had had more experience playing international games, I don't think the adjustment would be so difficult. International games are much like pro games."

Hedberg's burst of speed is unmatched in the WHA and possibly in the NHL, too. For the first 20 feet, he has no equal in the league. The speed gives him a chance to reach rebounds around opponent nets. A quick and powerful wristshot or a flick of his backhand can create a goal in an instant.

What keeps him so physically fit?

"There are no tricks," said Hedberg. "Just hard work. Myself, I can't play this game if I'm in bad shape. I have to be in good shape."

And when Hedberg is in good shape, it means he's flying. That's why they call them the Winnipeg Jets.


Excerpts from Pro Hockey, WHA 1975-76 (by Dan Proudfoot)

Skating at right wing on the same line as Bobby Hull has, in the past, guaranteed obscurity for many talented hockey players. Anders Hedberg quickly established a reputation throughout professional hockey, almost equalling Hull's stage presence, scoring 53 goals, and winning the WHA Rookie of the Year award in 1974-75.

Hedberg was the fourth-highest scorer in the league, trailing only Hull, Serge Bernier and Wayne Rivers. His powerful skating and his scoring touch forced opposing teams to spread their checking around, rather than concentrating on Hull, so Hedberg was doubly useful, helping free Hull to score when he wasn't scoring himself.

"I bellyached in the past about some of our players who were sitting back. fat and lazy on big contracts," said Hull, "but the Swedes and the Finns have changed all that. I've never seen such skating in games, such dedication, such practicing."


Excerpts from Zander Hollander Complete Hockey Handbook, 1975-76 (by Reyn Davis)

Perpetual motion with explosive powers... Winner of the Lou Kaplan Award, presented annually to the WHA's top rookie... Causes crowds to gasp with his electrifying speed, clever shifts, and bristling shot, respected by goaltenders as one of the league's best... Born in the northern Swedish town of Ornskoldsvik... First skates were laced onto his boots... Missed 13 games with a groin injury that was so severe he honestly believed he would have recovered faster from knee surgery... Still managed to score 53 goals, including six game winners... Never before has a rookie in either league scored as many goals... Powerful build, long blonde hair and refreshing handsome features make him especially popular among the fairer sex... Is on the brink of becoming a star.




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