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Salming, Hammarstrom and oops, I forgot Thommie Bergman—former Red Wing, Jet and a modern-day Maple Leaf scout

A while back I wrote about the Swedish hockey pioneer, Ulf Sterner in a post entitled, "Salming and Hammarstrom weren’t the first". Interestingly, a reader subsequently sent a comment that gave us a bit of an update on Sterner, the former NHL’er from Sweden.

Sterner played a handful of games in the NHL but I mentioned in my earlier post that he seems to receive little notoriety for his ground-breaking move from European to NHL Hockey in 1964-65.

In these parts, and understandably so, Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom receive credit for being true pioneers and for breaking down barriers, all the while fighting through the “Chicken Swede” taunts that lasted for years.

I had a feeling as I wrote that piece that I was missing something. And I was, in terms of other Swedish players who were ground-breakers. And one of those was playing right in my backyard—Thommie Bergman of the Detroit Red Wings.

Bergman joined the Wings the same year I went off to university—1972-’73—so maybe he doesn’t stand out quite as much as he would have if I had still been living at home. We were right across from Detroit and as a kid growing up I watched the Wings on TV on a regular basis and always listened to their games on the radio, with the always smooth Bruce Martyn calling the play-by-play, along with Budd Lynch.

Thinking back now, I actually remember Bergman quite well, primarily as a fairly-skilled offensive defenseman. His early career stats seem to bear that out. He scored 9 goals in his first NHL season with the Wings in 1972-’73, which was the season before Salming and Hammarstrom arrived to play with the Leafs.

Maybe a reader can fill me in on something I’m not sure about. I know Bergman jumped to the WHA in the mid-‘70s, joining the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. But did he actually make the move in the middle of a season?

I know he played some good hockey with Winnipeg, earning a point a game in 13 playoff tilts one year, after putting up 41 regular season points with the Jets—pretty good numbers for a blueliner. Bergman returned to the Red Wings to finish his professional career.

When all is said and done, Salming of course had a much more illustrious career, but Bergmann was the actual trail-blazer, the first Swedish NHL player (to my knowledge at least) since Sterner—and before Salming and Hammarstrom.

Leaf fans know Bergman as along-time and respected European scout for the Maple Leafs for many years. And way back when, he made the gutsy move to play in the NHL, triggering a wave of Swedish imports in the years to come, players such as Salming, Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg and many others who have made the NHL even stronger.

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