Guest blogger: George Grimm

100

The NHL’s First European Player

By George Grimm

From its inception, the National Hockey League had been populated by mostly Canadian players, with a few Americans sprinkled in here and there for good measure. But that all changed on Jan. 27, 1965 when Ulf Sterner of the New York Rangers became the first European trained player  to take the ice for an NHL team.

Sterner was born on Feb. 11, 1941 in Deje, Varmland, Sweden.  He joined Sweden’s national team when he was 17 years old and made his Olympic debut in 1960 in Squaw Valley. Sweden failed to earn a medal but Sterner won the Golden Puck Award as Sweden’s Player of the Year.  He scored a goal in a 5-3 Gold Medal win over Canada in the 1962 Ice Hockey World Championships. The next year he scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win over Canada.

The Rangers became interested in the 6-foot-2, 187-pound center in 1963 and invited him to training camp. Sterner came to camp and signed a five-game tryout contract but declined to play that season to preserve his amateur status for the 1964 Olympics where he led all scorers with six goals and five assists as Sweden ultimately earned a Silver medal.

Sterner reported to the Rangers training camp in 1964 and was assigned to St. Paul of the CHL to become acclimated to the North American game. Ulf  did very well in St. Paul scoring 12 goals and adding nine assists in only 16 games before being promoted first to Baltimore of the AHL and then to the Rangers.

He made his NHL debut in a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins. Sterner played well and had a goal disallowed due to an offside call. But he was the target of physical abuse by opposing players who tried to intimidate him.  After four games Sterner was sent back to Baltimore where he recorded 18 goals and 26 assists in 52 games and helped the Clippers make the AHL playoffs. He returned to Sweden after the season, where he continued to star in International Competition as well as Swedish leagues until his retirement following the 1977-78 season.

It’s not that Sterner didn’t have the talent to play in the NHL, it was clear that he had better than average skills. It was more the fact that he was raised in Sweden where offensive zone checking was prohibited and he just wasn’t used to the North American style game.

Former Ranger Ulf Nilsson played on a line with Sterner in the 1973 World Championships in Moscow.  “Sterner was one of the best forwards that ever came out of Sweden,” Ulf told me a few months ago. “I talked to Fred Shero about him and he said that Ulf was one of the most talented players that he had ever seen.”

“He was sort of unusual because he was a big guy for those days and pretty good on his skates for a player of that size. In those days the big guys didn’t really move that fast.”

Sterner is credited with originating the “stick, skate, stick” move which Nilsson explained to me. “As most Swedish hockey players, he grew up playing soccer in the summer time so he was actually pretty good handling the puck with his skates too. It was a move where he would pretend to pass the puck back but pass it to his skate and kick it up again.

“It must have been really hard to be on your own in a new country with a new style of play”, Nilsson said when I asked him why he thought Sterner didn’t try a return to North America as a player. “I think it was the loneliness. I think it was easier for Anders (Hedberg) and me coming to Winnipeg as teammates.”

Today, Sterner and his wife Pia live on a small farm near Carlstadt, Sweden.

Although he only had a brief four-game stint with the Rangers, Sterner was a trail blazer and today the NHL is a veritable League of Nations with players from practically every hockey-playing country. And each one of those players owes a debt of gratitude to Ulf Sterner.

 

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100 Comments

  1. The Jackie Robinson of the NHL. Why would Dolan not erect a statue in the Garden Rotunda? Any sociologists out there? And, Thank you, George. (as a side-note, Ulf Nilsson is the reason Dennis Potvin is to this day greeted so warmly by Garden faithful on the few occasions when he has the nerve to show his face.) Nilsson has also said that he is delighted to have his #11 hanging from the rafters, but he can’t understand why it has someone else’s name on it: Messier. – So no one gets the wrong impression, he said it with a smile

  2. Rumors are Keith Tkachuck is attempting a comeback and that the Rangers may give him a shot during training camp …

  3. Flash: The Red Sox have hired another Terry Francona clone. Drinking, smoking, beer, card games allowed again in dugouts.

  4. Nice post George. Awaiting the usual Europansy comments…….

    So season over then? or should we expect a last minute mini-capitulation from the NHL or NHLPA over how those contracts get paid?

    One thing i’m wondering is, will they pro-rata the price of Center Ice when they eventually get a deal done and schedule a 55-60 game season?

    Good to see some interesting MLB news: The Red Sox hired a new coach, with a .475 winning record (shares in Sam Adams and KFC just went back up to their pre-Valentine prices) and Ozzie got fired (again), 6 months after he should have been fired for his Castro comments.

  5. Good morning, boneheads!

    Great post, George.

    I thought Anatoli Firsov was the one who invented the “stick, skate, stick” move. At least that is what we were told in Russia. Interesting.

  6. _Awaiting the usual Europansy comments……._

    [saying nothing]

    I’m guessing Keith Tkachuk weighs a couple of Byfugliens by now.

  7. I see NHL and the NHLPA have nothing more to discuss. Both sides standing pat on there proposals, bye, bye season.

  8. Training Camp? Seriously? Is training camp considered a regular part of the season?
    after all this lost time, one might think that ( uh, that “one” of reference, ah, heh heh, it’s really me),
    it’s all a part of the regular program, not separate from the games, but, I refuse to be surprised again. I was thinking that during this off time they go hold a “training” Camp, but that’s part of the contract I suppose.( ah, just pretend you didn’t see this commentary.)

  9. I can see why the owners like Bettman, with him they are faceless and avoid a lot of bad press for all this – its Bettman who faces the media, Bettman who gets the majority of articles written about him, Bettman who gets booed wherever he goes, Bettman who authorised the attempted end-around last week, Bettman who turns down the proposals and lead the walkout from talks, Bettman who proposed the 57/43 split originally……

    I dont think we will be seeing hockey for a while, and i dont think the owners stance will soften until the winter classic and all-star game are threatened – although how you could have an all-star game in the middle of a shortened season is a joke.

  10. Staal Wart aka stalwart…marked by outstanding strength and vigor of body, mind or spirit.
    ex. Marc Staal is a stalwart on defense for the NY Rangers.
    synonyms: bold, courageous, Marc Staal, dauntless, fearless, McDonagh, galant, gutsy, Callahan, valiant, undaunted.
    antonyms: chicken, chicken-hearted, coward, Bettman, gutless, lily-livered, spineless.

  11. just like the coliseum rangers fans will take over. it will be a ranger home game even more then it was at the coliseum

  12. That;s funny…..”anything Islanders sound stupid”………………this is what I call entertainment.
    little tap and toe, from Dan Daley, anbd Judy Garland?)

  13. Tiki,
    you can tell from the Jet’s record that Sanchez is clearly focused on football…



    and turnovers…

  14. Nice…

    Now, they need new uniforms…and they need a new name…a new GM….and a new owner…

    then, they can take the next step to becoming a respectable franchise…

  15. Isles announce a 25-year lease with the Barclays Center, starting in the 2015-2016 season.

    To keep the history, the team will NOT change its name or logo.

    Owner Charles Wang said he received many substantial offers to move team out of state.

    Rivalry with Rangers just got a lot bigger.

  16. This, for me, does not effect the rivalry with the Rangers. Still hate the Islandorks. Look the same and just play in a much nicer arena.

  17. Also, Mike Francesa is giving his take on the NHL lockout which I am assuming he JUST found out about.

  18. Considering the location, the Barclays Center has a higher chance of getting a fractured cheekbone first, LW….

  19. Hey! At least we get to complain about Brooklyn Nets updates during the games and another arena with horrific ice conditions.

  20. How about the Brooklyn Deckers, with Brooklyn, herself, appearing at every home game like Carol Alt did for the Rangers, keeping the fans’ attention away from the mistake-prone play on the ice?

  21. Thank God they are keeping the name so we don’t have to see a million bandwagon fans wearing Brooklyn hats everywhere.

  22. Thank God they are keeping the name so we don’t have to see a million -bandwagon fans- HIPSTERS wearing Brooklyn hats everywhere.

  23. The only significant difference between the Islanders in LI and the team in Brooklyn will be that they will have just finished paying Alexei Yashin’s contract.

  24. ilb, where on the U.S. map exactly is Brooklyn?

    I still may drive out to Uniondale occasionally because it’s such a nice, relaxing and pleasant drive.

  25. JUST CALL THEM BROOKLYN….TONIGHT AT THE WORLD’S GREATEST ARENA …BROOKLYN TAKES ON THE NY RANGERS!!!!!!! THAT IS ALL!™

  26. I will not root against any teams from Brooklyn…that’s moronic. More like two chances to win the cup every year now.

  27. iBillyBleedsBlue on

    What I learned today:

    The Rangers are responsible for introducing EuroPansies to the NHL.

    The only really funny here about the Isles was CCCPs link to the new logo, which may have been missing a latte, but the tattoo and PBR logo nail it.

    It’s a slow off season for Carp to have this few responses this time of year. How bout some metrics on this?

  28. iBillyBleedsBlue on

    Isn’t Brooklyn technically the western most county of long island? Should they be the short islanders? Man, I’m at a loss for a good line about this one, Kansas city would have been much easier.

  29. iBillyBleedsBlue on

    Having never been to Kansas City it’s safe to say the locals there were relieved today to learn the Islanders are locked into 25 years in Brooklyn. “This clearly is not enough time to prepare for the impendeing FISHSTICKS scare of 2040,” said one Kansas City resident.

  30. Haha! Verlander!! This is what happens when an offense actually desires to perform and you’re not getting strike called in the outside batter’s box!!!

  31. *strikes called

    Saw that earlier, ilb. Great news. He’s stayed out of the Eastern Conference. Columbus now has hope for the future.

  32. Olga Folkyerself on

    If I had to watch the fishsticks in Brooklyn for 25 years, I’d be a Brooklyn BridgeJumper.

  33. Last time I saw Davidson, he fell off a bar stool in Rye, NY. Happens to the best of us at least once, I suppose (or will).

  34. As sung by Janis Joplin:

    Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when JD ran the Blues,
    Not a cup was good enough for me
    And good enough in DC for Georgie McPhee.

    Columbus, just another word for nothin’ left to lose

  35. This former known as a Fishsticks team is now officially from Nowhere and Nobodies are their name. The new Brookisles Blowers will play maybe in the Most Fancy Arena, but it is not going to help’em to get any closer to the playoff and 14500 half empty seats not going to support their financial desire.
    P.S. Concern about CCCP, hope he will not become a switcher or deserter…stone-firm about ilb.

  36. They were drowning early last year before they hired Ken Hitchcock who turned the team…

    2 playoff appearances for the Blues in 6 years with JD running things (sweep in the first round in 08-09, and sweep in the second last year) hardly makes them a contender.

  37. Alert: DelZotto is bringing his clothes back to Toronto. When he gets a new contract, he will be able to afford socks and a sport coat in each location.

  38. I know, I know TrippleCP. Just kidding. B/c you like everything Brooklyn (and Oddessa)- real patriot. But Rangers is like swan’s love – for life, right?

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