Håkan Loob will always be remembered as part of the first, and only, Calgary Flames group to hoist the Stanley Cup.
He almost lived in infamy for being the first to drop it, too.
|Hakan Loob scored 429 points in 450 career games with the Flames |
A little bobble while skating the prized trophy after dispatching of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Forum in 1989, Loob quickly recovered to hoist it high above his head once again, with an ever-growing grin on his face.
“You know what? I regret that I didn’t drop it,” Loob told CalgaryFlames.com from his home in Karlstad, Sweden. “I could have been famous making the only dent in the cup. I can’t remember who handed it to me, but I almost fell. That would have been something.”
Something indeed, and an incredible encore in what ended up being his final twirl on NHL ice -- a fact only he and his family knew at the time.
At just 28 years old and with six seasons and 450 regular season games with the Flames (plus another 73 playoff skates), Loob walked away from the National Hockey League with the intention of raising his young family back home in Sweden.
“Yes, I knew that,” Loob said it being his last season with the Flames, whenever it ended. “I had made my decision to go home. Maybe that’s why some people didn’t think I cared that much, but it was because I made the decision in the early going.
“Due to family reasons and all of that, it’s going to be my last year. Once we won the trophy we had some great moments in Montreal and even great moments back in Calgary, and we had some unbelievable team parties.
“At the same time, all of my team knew I was going home, so it was kind of a goodbye. We said ‘Goodbye,’ but we cheered that we we’re the best team in the whole world.”
It was a fitting finale. Loob ended where he started.
The contract was on the table and I talked to my wife and we said, ‘Wow, maybe this is the time to take a chance and see if we can make it in the first year. If not there’s always Sweden and playing in the Elite League here.’ - - Hakan Loob
Little did he know at the time, but a ninth round draft pick, 181st overall, in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft on June 11 at the famed Montreal Forum would become one of the biggest days of Loob’s life. The Flames selected the undersized 19-year-old from Karlstad to little fanfare.
So little, in fact, Loob didn’t even fully realize it.
“To be honest, I had really no clue,” he said. “I think that Sweden didn’t know too much about the NHL. We didn’t have it on the TV or the radio. Getting drafted at that time wasn’t really noticeable in Sweden. I got a sweater in the mail; I think it was a No. 8. If I remember right, it had just turned into Calgary from Atlanta. I didn’t realize or recognize what was going to happen. It went by pretty quietly.”
Loob’s career didn’t, though.
And after a record-setting season with Färjestad BK in 1983-84 that saw him set an Elitserien record with 42 goals and 76 points, the push was on to get Loob, dubbed by then-general manager Cliff Fletcher as the “[Wayne] Gretzky of Sweden”, to Calgary.
“I crushed all the records, I had 76 points in 36 games, and everything was kind of going forward,” Loob recounted. “I got the call from agents who wanted to represent me. You get a call from the Flames saying they were going to come watch me play.
“You start to understand that maybe you’re going to get a chance to go. The contract was on the table and I talked to my wife and we said, ‘Wow, maybe this is the time to take a chance and see if we can make it in the first year. If not there’s always Sweden and playing in the Elite League here.’ We said, let’s make it a try-out and see what happens.”
What happened was simple.
Loob scored 30 goals 55 points in his first NHL season, and was named to the All-Rookie team. He followed it up with two more 30-goal seasons, and was among the team-leaders in points.
A down season in 1986-87 was followed by a 50-goal campaign in 1987-88 which saw Loob become the first, and still the only, Swedish-born player to hit that plateau.
It was a start all sprung from his first game, a 5-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 10, 1983.
“I remember it well because I scored my first goal in my first game,” Loob said. “I remember a reporter came up to me after the game and asked me how it was to play in the NHL. I said I thought it was great and the atmosphere was unbelievable. He said, ‘You scored a goal in the first game, how many do you think you’re going to reach?’ I said, ‘Well, how many games are there?’”
Loob finished with 193 goals and 429 points, and added 26 goals and 54 points in the playoffs.
Point No. 54 came on a quick passing play with Joe Nieuwendyk on a three-on-one rush that set up Lanny McDonald's final NHL goal, and gave the Flames a lead against the Canadiens in Game 6 they would not relinquish.
A final point, in his final game, to help win Calgary’s sole Cup, his fondest memory.
“Of course, because that’s what you get reminded of all the time,” said Loob, who played seven more seasons with Färjestad BK before retiring to become the team’s GM, and eventually president and president of hockey operations.
“You remind yourself of the good times and there were great times. The Cup was huge thing for the players and the city. I think sometimes people think that it’s the goal that counts, but it’s the trip to the goal. We had an unbelievable journey and we had a team that from the first year was a fairly good team but so-so anyways.
“Now 30, 40 years later, thinking of the journey to build the team, to play with good player and all of a sudden to play with great players, and then win the Stanley Cup, It’s something to reflect on. Sometimes it’s not built over one game or a final series in the Stanley Cup. There was six years where we stepped up every year.
“It was a great journey.”