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50 Forgotten Stories: 'Super Swede'

Tomas Sandstrom's size, speed, shot, and threshold for pain always left his LA Kings teammates in awe

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

On April 20, 1991, Craig Muni reportedly broke Tomas Sandstrom's leg in Game 2 of the Smythe Division Final.

"Hopefully, I can heal quickly and make it to the [Stanley Cup] finals," he said to the Los Angeles Times. "You never know."

Less than a week later, Sandstrom strapped on a knee brace and recorded an assist in the LA Kings 5-2 victory in Game 5 of their series against the rival Edmonton Oilers.

His teammates were in awe.

"Anybody else would probably be in a cast," noted linemate Wayne Gretzky to the Times.

Luc Robitaille, who dubbed Sandstrom "Super Swede" after the game, was floored, "This guy's unbelievable."

"We didn't expect to see him until next year," acknowledged Steve Duchesne. "But to see him back tonight -- and he played really well -- it was a big inspiration."

Everybody was impressed … except "Super Swede" himself. "I was ready to play and the doctor said I could play. You have to play through pain.

"My leg is not that sore. It's a bad thing that it came out in the paper that it was a broken leg. It's just a little fracture."

To this day, Sandstrom, who is now a firefighter in Sweden, talks about this injury as if it were but a scratch.

"It wasn't that much of a deal because the doctors had told me there was no problem to play. It was just a small fracture.

"I didn't have any pain at all. It was just more of a mental thing that you were worried about what could happen.

"It was during a playoff series. A lot of guys played with small injuries."

Indeed, the fracture was in "a non-vital area of the bone." But Sandstrom's toughness was something special, according to long-time Los Angeles trainer Pete Demers, who tended to over 400 Kings in his 34 years of service. There was "no doubt" in his mind that the Swede had as high a pain threshold as he had ever seen.

"You have to protect them from themselves," recalls Demers of players like Sandstrom. "They want to play so bad. They want to come back before they're ready."

Sandstrom would score a goal in a losing cause as LA fell to Edmonton in overtime of Game 6.


Playing with the Great Ones

Sandstrom is one of the few wingers to skate with both Gretzky and Mario Lemieux -- and for good reason.

He was the complete power forward: 6'2", fast, tenacious, and blessed with a surprising shot.

But the right winger actually remembers not wanting to play with "The Great One" at first.

"When me and Tony [Granato] got traded [to LA], on the flight to Vancouver, we both said, 'We just hope we don't get to play with Gretzky.' Not at the beginning."

For one, the very popular Bernie Nicholls went the other way to the New York Rangers. Skating from the get-go with Gretzky would add even more pressure on the newest Kings.

Sandstrom also had a concern which was unique to him. According to the Times, other players "complained about his constant harassment -- a stick in the ribs as they skated by, a push here, a shove there." He was once compared -- unfavorably -- to Saddam Hussein by the Winnipeg Sun because of these extracurricular activities.

"I was worried," confesses the career agitator. "Just the way I played. I probably said some stupid things or did some stupid things to [Gretzky] when I played against him."

He laughs now, "You know the way I played, I probably slashed him once in a while."

But Gretzky immediately put both Sandstrom and Granato at ease. "He told us, 'I know you guys are nervous about playing with me. But just play your game and I'll adjust to you guys.' "

The trio would go on to become one of the deadliest lines in team history.

Speaking of both Gretzky and Lemieux, Sandstrom observes that part of their greatness was the ability to adjust to whoever they worked with.

"It's easy. You just have to go out there and play your game. Try to give them the puck as much as possible."

"Don't worry so much. That's the toughest part," he stresses.

Sandstrom certainly played his game in Los Angeles. His 0.5 goals per game average as a King was second only to Robitaille's 0.62 in those high-flying days -- ahead of more celebrated scorers like Gretzky and Jari Kurri.


The Wink

"Always Sandstrom is in my crease, bothering me, hitting at me when I have the puck," complained Patrick Roy to Sports Illustrated during the Montreal Canadiens' 1993 Stanley Cup parade.

He was speaking specifically about the incident in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final which has only grown in legend over the years.

"When I made the save on Robitaille, Sandstrom hit me. So I winked. I wanted to show him I'd be tough. That I was in control."

But at the time, the pesky winger didn't notice.

"I didn't see it during the game. I just saw it on TV afterwards."

Sandstrom, who pelted Roy with seven fruitless shots each in Games 2 and 4, has nothing bad to say about the showman, "We had a hard time scoring on him. Just one of those series."

Of the wink, he even admits, "It was kind of a fun thing."


Negotiating 101

In 1990, Sandstrom was rumored to be headed back to Sweden at the end of his contract. He was then shipped to Los Angeles.

"If I had been traded to a Canadian team, I might have considered it," he told the Times after landing in Los Angeles. "But now, I'm just happy to be going to the Kings. That's a great team to get traded to, if you have to get traded."

In 1994, Sandstrom was rumored to be headed back to Sweden at the end of his contract. He was then shipped to Pittsburgh with Shawn McEachern for Marty McSorley.

He would play five more NHL seasons, winning the Stanley Cup with the Detroit in 1997.

"You know when your contract is up … everybody used that," reveals Sandstrom. "Most of the Europeans. That was the only way you could [negotiate back then]."

But did he really mean what he said about not wanting to play in Canada? "Negotiations too," chuckles the Swede.

 

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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