Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TODAY's TOPIC: FIRST NON-NORTH AMERICANS WIN STANLEY CUP



Swede Stefan Persson, in 1980, was the first European-trained player to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Hockey has always been a sport of myths and preconceptions. Before 1972, one of these fixed ideas was that world class hockey could be played only by “NHL professionals”. The Soviet national team changed that view in September ’72 during the Summit Series. But that begged another question -- could European players really sustain the rigors of a long NHL season and still be effective? Swedes Thommie Bergman and Borje Salming showed in 1972-73 that the answer was a resounding “yes”.

To pursue the matter further, though, one wondered whether an NHL team could then win a Stanley Cup if it relied on Europeans for success? Salming and Bergman couldn’t help their respective teams to the Cup in the 1970s. Indeed, since 1893 there had been no Stanley Cup winning team with players who had developed their hockey skills in Europe.

Finn Matti Hagman was the first European to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but Hagman’s Boston Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 and the next season, the New York Rangers – with Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson – lost to the same Canadiens. But stocking an NHL team with Europeans started to be common practice at the turn of the 1980s, and the emerging New York Islanders were at the forefront of that trend.

Finn Matti Hagman was the first European to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but Hagman’s Boston Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 and the next season, the New York Rangers – with Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson – lost to the same Canadiens. But stocking an NHL team with Europeans started to be common practice at the turn of the 1980s, and the emerging New York Islanders were at the forefront of that trend.

When the Islanders began their quest for the Cup in 1980, they were led by stars such as Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Clark Gillies, but two Swedish players – defenceman Stefan Persson and versatile forward Anders Kallur – were an integral part of the Islanders’ emerging dynasty.

The Isles reached the 1980 Stanley Cup finals against Philadelphia after beating Boston in five games in the quarter-finals and Buffalo in six in the semis. The Islanders dominated the final series. They built a 3-1 series lead, but Philadelphia prolonged the finals by winning game 5, setting up game 6 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. In one of the most memorable Stanley Cup games ever, the Islanders won their first championship after a sudden-death goal by Bob Nystrom, 7:11 into overtime. It was ironic, indeed, that the scorer of the winning goal for the first Stanley Cup team with Europeans was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and still carried a Swedish passport, although Nystrom got his hockey schooling in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Kallur and Persson were members of all four Cup wins by the Islanders between 1980 and ’83. Tomas Jonsson made it three Swedes on the team and when the Islanders won their fourth championship they were a quartette of Europeans as Mats Hallin, another Swede, was on that ’83 team.

For Europeans to be part of a Stanley Cup winning team was one of the defining moments in hockey’s globalisation process. Even the most conservative hockey people in North America realised that players could no longer be categorised by nationality, only by quality. NHL general managers and coaches recognised that not only could you win championships with Europeans, but with the skill element that those players contributed, their presence became a necessity.

Of the following 27 Stanley Cup winning teams there have been Europeans on every one with the exception of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.

WHO - Swede Stefan Persson
WHERE - Long Island, New York, USA
WHEN - May 24, 1980

1 comment:

  1. I thought Oleg Petrov played for 1993 Canadiens, hm..

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