Story #54

Vezina Trophy winner Pelle Lindbergh dies in car crash

November 10, 1985 – Philadelphia, USA

 

In the early 1970s, Swedish defenceman Borje Salming was the first who showed that Europeans can be stars in the NHL. Czechoslovakian forward Peter Stastny showed in the early ‘80s that Europeans could score with the best NHLers. In 1985, the last North American hockey bastion was conquered when Pelle Lindbergh from Sweden won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL, this after only two seasons as a regular with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lindbergh was living his dream. When he was a kid back home in Stockholm in the early ‘70s, he idolized the Philadelphia Flyers and their goaltender, Bernie Parent. He purchased his first Flyers sweater in 1972, when his club Hammarby was touring Toronto. Lindbergh adopted a style of goaltending similar to Parent’s, and his goalie mask made him even more of a Parent look-alike because it was adorned with a Flyers logo. He was only 19 when he played in his first World Championship in 1979, and a couple of months later, Pelle was drafted into the NHL by none other than the Philadelphia Flyers. The next year he was Tre Kronor’s goalie at the Lake Placid Olympics, and he played in the 1981 Canada Cup for Sweden as well.

Lindbergh signed his first contract with Philadelphia after the 1980 Olympics. It took some seasons to establish himself in front of one of the most demanding crowds in the NHL, but in 1984-85 he had his breakthrough season. Lindbergh won 40 games and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals where the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers were too strong. But in June 1985, he was bestowed with the ultimate recognition. Pelle Lindbergh was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, the first European so honoured.

The 1985-86-season started on a high note. The Flyers were unbeaten in ten consecutive games and Lindbergh was in goal in six out of those victories. That autumn, at age 26, he had signed a six-year contract that made him a very rich man. On November 9, 1985, the Flyers had a Saturday night home against Boston and backup Bob Froese was in the net. After the game, several players, among them Lindbergh, decided to go out and have a drink. The Flyers had won the game, and there wouldn’t be any practice on Sunday. Monday’s practice was optional, and the next game was on Thursday. It was the perfect time for a night out.

It was early in the morning on November 10 when Pelle Lindbergh left the nightclub. He had two companions in his red Porsche. The combination of a car far too fast for regular streets and alcohol in his blood proved to be a deadly combination. At 5:37am, Lindbergh misjudged a light curve on Summerdale Road in New Jersey and crashed his car against a massive white wall. The impact was fatal.

Pelle Lindbergh would never wake up. On November 12, he was proclaimed dead. Two days later, when the Flyers played their first game after the tragedy, it was Bernie Parent who held the eulogy for Lindbergh in front of 17,000 weeping fans at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

About the Top 100 Stories

As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.

 

The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.

 

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