Anders Hedberg, from Ornskoldsdvik, Sweden, played with the WHA's Jets from 1974-78. In his four seasons with the Jets, he scored 100 points or more in each season, amassing 458 points (236G, 222A) in 286 games with Winnipeg. He was named WHA Rookie of the Year and helped the Jets win two Avco Cup Titles in 1976 and 1978. He would also play seven seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers before retiring from playing in 1985. Hedberg has previously been inducted into the Manitoba Hall of Fame, IIHF Hall of Fame and the Swedish Hockey Hall of Fame.
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A part-time scout for the Winnipeg Jets in Stockholm, Dr. Gerry Wilson watched the blond winger on Sweden's national team take the puck behind his own net and stop.
Bearing down on Anders Hedberg in an exhibition game prior to the 1974 World Championships was Soviet Union star Valeri Kharlamov, widely considered the fastest player in the world and perhaps the best player on the planet.
Kharlamov swooped in from the left of the Swedish goal in full flight, forcing Hedberg to take off in the other direction.
In two steps, he was at top speed. By the time Hedberg reached his own blue line, not only had he not been caught, he had gained a couple of strides on Kharlamov. And, let's not forget, he was carrying the puck.
Wilson's eyes bugged out of his head and he immediately sent a telegram to Billy Robinson, the Jets director of player personnel, which read: "I think I have a guy you can use. It would be worth your while to come over and have a look." Was it ever.
Decades later Hedberg admits that he doesn't remember the play with Kharlamov, but that's just as well.
...I was playing against these so-called superstars and I could skate just as fast as they could. That anchored my feelings, I'll make a living at thisANDERS HEDBERG
"The story is getting better and better," he says with a laugh.
While Swedish players were virtually unknown to North Americans at the time, Hedberg had already seen enough of the best Canada had to offer to know he belonged. Two years earlier, he had played in a pair of exhibition games against Team Canada in the middle of the 1972 Summit Series. (Canada won the first 4-1 and the two teams tied 4-4 in the second.)
"I had read about these superstars and suddenly I was playing against these so-called superstars and I could skate just as fast as they could. That anchored my feelings, I'll make a living at this," he says.
"I could skate with the 1972 Canadian team and I could skate with Kharlamov, too. At the time, the NHL team was made up of superstars but the meaning of superstars changed.
They were good players, no question, but they weren't any different than the good players in Europe, meaning we could skate with them and we could play with them. If they were superstars, so were some players in Europe. The perception of the quality of players in the NHL changed, no question. It was a huge thing for the self confidence of European hockey."
Still, when Hedberg - who was rarely short on confidence himself - and Ulf Nilsson stepped out on to the ice at the St. James Civic Centre with Bobby Hull for the first time late in the summer of 1974, he admits there were some butterflies churning around in his stomach. He was thrown for a loop when they got ready to start some line rushes and he went over to his traditional spot on the left wing.
"Bobby said, 'Kid, go on the other side, this is my side.' I had never played on the right side, never. It turned out to be my right spot," he says. Was it ever.
In four years with the WHA Jets, Hedberg scored 236 goals and 222 assists for 458 points. He had the highest goal scoring average in WHA history with 0.825 goals per game and he's second all time in points per game average with 1.601. He was the WHA rookie of the year in 1975, an integral part of two AVCO Cup championships in 1976 and 1978 and is a member of the the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Swedish Hockey Hall of Fame, the IIHF Hall of Fame and the WHA Hall of Fame.