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Jets induct inaugural Hall of Fame class

Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson emotional from ceremony to honor Hot Line

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, of the inaugural class of the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, were emotional about their induction at MTS Centre on Wednesday.

Hedberg and Nilsson, two of the three members of the famed Hot Line, watched commemorative banners raised in the arena prior to the Jets game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I don't know if you can imagine how excited we are to be back in this town... where hockey is just not entertainment, it is part of life, as well as it has been for me, all my life," Hedberg said. "I am so thrilled to be back here. It feels not like home, but almost."

Nilsson said two of the best things to happen in his life were in Winnipeg, the birth of his children Anna and Mikael.

"This is also really great for me," Nilsson said. "But I wish I had someone sitting next to me here. I'd like to thank the Winnipeg Jets organization for really acknowledging the old Winnipeg Jets. It's a really great honor to be part of this event."

Nilsson was referring to the Jets' third Hall of Fame inductee, the other member of the Hot Line, left wing Bobby Hull, who did not attend the induction.

The event kicked off 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic week in Winnipeg. It includes Jets Hall of Fame and alumni events and concludes with the Heritage Classic when the Jets play the Edmonton Oilers at Investors Group Field on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).

Hedberg and Nilsson joined the Jets of the World Hockey Association in 1974 and played four seasons, setting records and helping Winnipeg win two of its three Avco Cup titles.

Nilsson, 66, had 140 goals and 344 assists in 300 games and was the MVP of the 1976 WHA playoffs.

Fellow Swede Hedberg, 65, had 236 goals and 222 assists in 286 games for the Jets before both him and Nilsson signed with the New York Rangers for the 1978-79 season.

Hull, who led the NHL in goals seven times with the Chicago Black Hawks before going to the Jets in 1972, had 303 goals and 335 assists in 411 WHA games.

Video: TOR@WPG: Hedberg, Hull, Nilsson honored by Jets

Nilsson said his fondest hockey memory in Winnipeg was the Jets 5-3 win against the Soviet Union in Winnipeg on Jan. 5, 1978.

Hedberg chose his first practice with Hull, which took place at the local St. James Arena in 1974.

"We had been told that, yeah, we were planning on playing with Bobby. But we obviously didn't know it would work and didn't know if it was really true, either," Hedberg said. "And that first practice... I had always played left or center, and Ulf was a center. And Bobby, I didn't know where he was going to be. And he said, 'Kid, get over on the right side,' and it worked. It was just a magic, magic practice where the antennae were up. And it worked. It just fit. We had delays, we had passes, moving, a feeling. I don't think we missed one line rush. And that's… I'm very emotional. Because that was very, very special. And we knew that evening, it will work."

Nilsson said he and Hedberg were so productive with their flowing, offensive style of play because they stuck together in Winnipeg.

"Just supporting each other," he said. "If I was a little down, Anders picked me up. And I tried to pick him up. We were never going to start any fights or anything like that, but we were never going to back down, either."

Hedberg said he is thrilled to be part of Heritage Classic week in Winnipeg.

"I'm looking forward, first of all, to meeting old friends, both players and other social connections we had," he said. "To me, we're in the past. Tonight we're going to see the present. Saturday, quite a bit of the past (in the alumni game) and on Sunday, we'll see the future, [Connor] McDavid, [Patrick] Laine.

"God, this is the past, the present and the future in a few days in Winnipeg. How can you beat that if you like hockey?"

Nilsson and Hedberg won't be playing in the alumni game Saturday.

"With my two new knees and artificial hip?" Nilsson said. "I don't even have skates anymore."

Hedberg said that was fine with him.

"I was not asked and I'm happy I was not," he said. "But Willy Lindstrom will play and he's the same age as me, a year younger than Ulf and he will represent me very well and he probably will skate faster than some other guys that are quite a bit younger."

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