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Frolunda pioneer Petersson remembers NHL time

by Dan Rosen
Welcoming the New York Rangers into their city is special for Gothenburgers, especially those who vividly remember Henrik Lundqvist before he became a Broadway star.
For one, though, the mere mention, let alone sight, of the Rangers is a vivid reminder of the best time of his life, of his heyday as a player in the National Hockey League.
"I scored my first goal at Madison Square Garden and I scored my first hat trick against the Rangers," Gothenburg native Jorgen Pettersson, a former star with Frolunda and the St. Louis Blues, told "I always seemed to score when we played them."
Pettersson cherishes the memories of his success against the Rangers and his entire six-year run in the NHL, including five seasons in St. Louis and one split between Hartford and Washington. He was not the first player from Gothenburg in the NHL, nor was he the first Frolunda player in the NHL, but he was the first Gothenburger who played for Frolunda to make it in the NHL.

"I had no clue what I was getting into. With my style of play, everybody thought I would be home after half a year. I had seen one NHL game on TV. It was the Rangers and St. Louis, and I saw it on tape. So, I had no clue what I was getting into, but it went the other way. I did really well. It was the best time of my life." -- Jorgen Pettersson

In that sense, Pettersson was a pioneer.
Former and current NHL All-Stars such as Daniel Alfredsson, Loui Eriksson and Erik Karlsson have followed in Pettersson's footsteps. Since he made the move across the Atlantic in 1980, 54 players from Frolunda's system have been drafted by NHL teams.
"I had no clue what I was getting into," Pettersson said. "With my style of play, everybody thought I would be home after half a year. I had seen one NHL game on TV. It was the Rangers and St. Louis, and I saw it on tape. So, I had no clue what I was getting into, but it went the other way. I did really well. It was the best time of my life."
Pettersson came to St. Louis in 1980 as a 24-year-old who had played several seasons for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League. He scored 161 of his 174 career NHL goals in his 365 games with the Blues. He split 70 more games between Hartford and Washington and finished his NHL career with 366 points.
Pettersson's 37 goals and 73 points in 1980-81 still stand as Blues' rookie records. He added 38 goals in his second season, 35 his third and 28 in his fourth season before closing his St. Louis career with 23 goals and 32 assists in 1984-85.
He vividly remembers his first day of training camp under former Blues coach Red Berenson.
"The rink was so much smaller and I was a pretty good skater, so I was thinking, 'How am I going to do this?'" Pettersson said. "They were telling me how to play, how to get up and down the wing, and I did totally the opposite. If I had done what they were saying I would have been home after two weeks because I wasn't that kind of player."
Pettersson gave Berenson, then 41 and only a few years removed from his playing days, a new entry for his playbook -- one that likely contributed to the young coach winning the Jack Adams Award in 1981.


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"When the defenseman stood with the puck behind the net, all of a sudden I would go down there and steal the puck from him and skate it up the ice," Pettersson recalled. "They thought I was crazy. Bernie Federko was like, 'What are you doing?' I wanted the puck and I got it. I didn't wait for it. I took it.
"Red Berenson made a practice out of that, for me to go down to the defenseman and get the puck, because it worked. Nobody had seen that. There weren't too many European players back then."
Pettersson's teammates became confident in the Swede's abilities. They started to respect him as an equal. Blues fans started to call him "The Handsome Swede."
"The guys knew I could do something for the team," Pettersson said. "I had good puck control and a good shot, so they treated me really well from the beginning."
Berenson, though, wasn't totally sold on Pettersson. He scratched him for the Blues' first three games of the 1980-81 season.
"I got shocked," Pettersson said. "There were even reporters from Gothenburg there because I was the first Gothenburger to play in the NHL. We went to New York for a road trip and played the Islanders, but he didn't play me. A reporter asked me when I was going to play, and he (Berenson) said it would be tomorrow.
"My first game was against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden."
Pettersson was stuck on the fourth line, but since the Blues dressed only 11 forwards, he would have to jump up with another line to get some ice time.
"The first time I got the puck I scored," he said. "I had a wrist shot through John Davidson. I remember it like it was yesterday. We won the game 2-1."
Pettersson remained on the fourth line and power play unit until just before Christmas, when he was paired with Wayne Babych and Blake Dunlop. Babych finished the season with 54 goals and 96 points. Dunlop had 67 assists and 87 points. Pettersson set the Blues' rookie records for goals and points.
"We were flying," Pettersson said. "All of a sudden we were the No. 2 line."
Dunlop remained his center for four seasons. They're still close friends.
"He really took care of me and helped me a lot," Pettersson added. "It was fantastic. I couldn't believe it. I had no idea. It wasn't easy, but when I got onto the ice I scored. I didn't know what was going on?"
Pettersson was traded to Hartford in the summer of 1985. He played only 23 games there before the Whalers shipped him to Washington. He played another 47 games for the Capitals, but he said he was besieged by injuries and his production had seriously slipped.
He was only 30 years old, but he had plenty of mileage on his body, a dozen professional seasons on his resume.
"It was time to go home," Pettersson said. "It's really tough when it happens, when you can't produce and do what you should do, do what you're there for. It's not so much fun when you don't get the ice time either. It got tougher and tougher. It wasn't that much fun."
Pettersson returned to Frolunda and played several more seasons in Sweden, but his time in the NHL, his seasons in St. Louis playing on a line with Dunlop and alongside a Hockey Hall of Famer like Federko are his most cherished memories of being a professional hockey player.
"It was the best time of my life," he said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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