Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Willy Lindstrom

Willy was born and grew up in the small Swedish town of Grums where he played hockey until the late 1960's. After that he went on to play five seasons for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish elite league. His smooth and effortless skating in combination with his hustling playing style caught the eyes of WHA's Winnipeg Jets in the mid 1970's. Willy always played at full speed in Sweden and had injuries like a broken wrist, smashed cheekbone, broken nose and torn knee ligaments.

Willy was already a veteran of the Swedish national team when he joined Winnipeg for the 1975-76 season. It took him awhile before he was comfortable in his new surrounding. He struggled with his English at first and had to take lessons from a tutor before he could communicate with his Canadian and American teammates. But when he got the hang of it he became one of the teams greatest practical jokers.

It took him awhile to adapt to the more physical North American style as well. But after about 50 games under his belt he started to dish out checks on his own and played a more aggressive hockey. His style was that he skated with his legs far apart which made him tough to knock off the puck. He had a decent rookie season in the WHA scoring 59 points in 81 games.

His sophmore season was excellent as he scored 80 points, including 44 goals. During that 1976-77 season Willy played a total of 124 games,which included pre-season games, Canada Cup games as well as regular season and playoff games for Winnipeg. Writers and broadcasters voted him as the best player on the West team in the 1977 WHA All-Star game.

Willy then had two more solid seasons in the WHA scoring 60 and 62 points. His biggest contributions came in the AVCO Cup playoffs where he helped Winnipeg win three titles. He for example led all goal scorers in the 1979 playoffs (10 goals) and scored the last Jets goal in the WHA.

He also had Winnipeg's first ever hat trick in the NHL where continued to put up descent numbers for Winnipeg. He had two 20+ goals seasons and one 30+ goal season and had just reached the 20 goal plateau in his 4th NHL season (1982-83) when he was told that he had been traded to Edmonton.

"I got the news on the airport when we were heading home from a game in Vancouver." Willy said. "John Ferguson (the Jets GM) came to me and said that I had just been traded to Edmonton. First I thought he was joking, but I soon understood that he was serious. I was both shocked and sad at the same time. Me and my wife had a lot of friends in Winnipeg and we even had plans to settle there for good. Of course I was disappointed to leave Winnipeg because I had played there for such a long time and I really enjoyed the place and the team."

But coming to Edmonton proved to be the best thing that could have happened to Willy. Edmonton made the finals in each of his three seasons with the team, winning two Stanley Cups. Willy had a defensive role on the Oilers team that was stacked with offensive fire power. He mostly played on the third and fourth lines. But in the playoffs Willy's savvy and experience proved to be very valuable. When Edmonton won their second Stanley Cup in 1985 Willy scored three goals in the final series, only Gretzky scored more goals in the finals.

"It was a wonderful feeling to win. The first time was the best, but from a personal standpoint I scored more important goals when we won the Cup the second time. I scored three important goals in the finals and when we won the second game against Philadelphia I scored the most important goal of my entire hockey career" Willy said.

After that playoff Willy was picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1985 waiver draft. In Pittsburgh he got to play together with a young superstar in Mario Lemieux. After two seasons in Pittsburgh Willy decided to return back to Sweden in 1987. At that time he was 36 years old but went on to play another three seasons, finishing his career in Brynas 1990. Thanks to his fine skating he was able to play until he was 39.

Willy was no star in the NHL, but he was a very decent and honest player who accomplished more than most players could ever dream of. He represented his country in the World championships and Canada Cup.

He's one of very few players to win both the AVCO Cup and Stanley Cup. He also had the honour to play alongside two of the greatest players in Gretzky and Lemieux. All in all Willy had an exciting hockey career for over two decades.


slowhopes 4:13 PM  

Great story on Willy! I was a big fan of his when he was on the Jets. I totally blocked out that he played for the Oil, so that was quite a surprise.

Anonymous,  6:47 AM  

Is Niklas (Detroit) his son or someone from family?

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