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Lindstrom a man of destiny

Former Jet hit jackpot many times over course of his WHA, NHL career

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/2/2012 (3086 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the most blessed careers in the history of hockey took off in Winnipeg in 1975.

That was the year Willy Lindstrom left Vastra Frolunda, a Division 1 team in Sweden, to suit up for the Winnipeg Jets.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / winnipeg free press archives
Willie Lindstrom (right) had a sensational 12-year career in pro hockey.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / winnipeg free press archives Willie Lindstrom (right) had a sensational 12-year career in pro hockey.

What followed over the ensuing 12 years was truly an embarrassment of riches, both in terms of championships and the great players with whom he went to battle night after night.

As a fresh-faced rookie, Lindstrom might have had an inkling of what destiny had in store for him when he walked into the Jets' dressing room for the first time and saw his boyhood idol, Bobby Hull, lacing up his skates. He already knew the other two-thirds of the Hot Line, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, from back home, as well as the team's captain, Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Thommie Bergman. Along with Finland's Veli-Pekka Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta, they represented the dawning of a new age of hockey.

But he and his European teammates endured threats, taunts and untold abuse from their less-skilled North American opponents, many of whom resented the Finns and Swedes for "stealing" jobs from Canadian players.

"Every time we were on the ice, we'd hear, 'I'm going to kill you, you Swedish chicken-shit. If you touch the puck, I'll cut your head off,'" he said. "You had to close your ears and not listen to them."

Lindstrom, now 60, played four seasons for the WHA Jets, winning three AVCO Cups. He went down in history as the sniper of the last goal for the WHA Jets in the 1979 AVCO Cup final.

Many more great moments lay ahead. But his career wasn't all days of champagne showers and parades. He was one of the few holdovers on the Jets when the team merged into the NHL in 1979 and he spent nearly four years on the sad-sack Jets when destiny came calling again. In the spring of 1983, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Laurie Boschman. Looking around his new dressing room, he saw future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson as well as the game's greatest player, Wayne Gretzky.

The Oilers went to the Stanley Cup finals that year, losing to the New York Islanders. The following spring, however, the team won its first Stanley Cup. Another would follow in 1985.

When Lindstrom lifted Lord Stanley's cup over his head in 1984, he became the first player in hockey history to have won an AVCO Cup and Stanley Cup in that order. (Several players had done it the other way around, including Hull, Gordie Howe and Ted Green).

"I won five cups in 13 years. It's a good record if you look at it that way," he said. "If you're looking at the games played, scoring and points, I wasn't too bad, either. I usually scored more than 20 goals every year. I was close to 50 in one year in Winnipeg." (He scored 44 in the 1976-77 season.)

After the second Stanley Cup, however, he was placed on waivers. End of the dream, right? Not if the team picking you up is the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose marquee player was none other than Mario Lemieux.

With that move, Lindstrom became the first NHL player to have been teammates with both Gretzky and Lemieux (not including all-star and national teams). Not even Lindstrom knew that.

"That's amazing. Holy smokes, that's really nice to hear. It's been a good hockey career," he said. "Everybody tells me, 'geez, you were playing with the top guys in the world.' I'm pleased to have done that. My favourite player was Bobby Hull when I was young. I came over and I was playing with him. That was my dream. They were just teammates at the time. I never thought about them being hall of famers. I sure think about it now. Everybody talks about it and asks about it. It's a really big thing."

Lindstrom ran his own autobody shop for a decade after retiring. He also scouted for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Phoenix Coyotes but has been out of the administrative side of hockey for the past five years.

He's still on the ice, though, playing old timers games with the Swedish national team.

These days, Lindstrom helps out his daughter in the clothing store she runs.

"I'm a dad. I'm in the back doing the stuff she doesn't want to do," he said with a laugh. I'm doing some welding, I'm doing some carpentry, some painting. I'm doing everything."


becomes moolah

IF only every former player could have the problems of Willy Lindstrom.

One of the most popular players in Winnipeg Jets history has sold off a number of items from his personal collection of memorabilia, including a Stanley Cup ring, an AVCO Cup ring and some jerseys.

"I've got so many rings, I never use them. They're just lying there. I asked my kids if they were interested and they said, 'no, dad. What are we going to do with them?'" he said.

He and several other retired Swedish players, including Toronto Maple Leaf legend, Borje Salming, were approached by a memorabilia broker a couple of years ago about selling some of their items if they didn't want them any more. His 1984 Stanley Cup ring sold for nearly $36,000, his jersey he wore while hoisting the Cup fetched $5,999 while his 1976 AVCO Cup ring sold for $2,420.

"I thought I could get something for (the rings and jerseys) if the kids didn't want to have them and somebody else was interested in having them. I used to wear a Stanley Cup ring but I haven't for the last 10 years," he said.

He has an insurance policy if he ever changes his mind.

"I still have three more rings," he said.


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