I had the great opportunity to chat with Winnipeg Jets legend Ulf Nilsson. A very candid Nilsson agreed to be interviewed for Greatest Hockey Legends.com. Here's the full interview:
Question: Growing up in Sweden, who were your hockey idols? Did you have any Canadian idols or NHL idols?
Answer: My idols were some Swedish soccer and hockey stars and of course some of the great CCCP stars and particularly Anatoli Firsov!
Question: When you decided to come to North America, did you have any concerns about this strange new league called the WHA? Did you have any offers from the NHL? What made you decide to join the Winnipeg Jets?
Answer: I had an offer from Buffalo Sabres, the team in the NHL which owned my rights. In those days there were no drafting of European players. Lars Erik Sjöberg, Anders Hedberg and I talked a lot at training camp for the WC -74 in Helsinki about our future. We agreed to all sign with Winnipeg for two reasons: one to have an impact on the style of play, would have been difficult on my own in Buffalo. The second reason was to be able to play with one of the greatest players of all time Bobby Hull, which proved to be one of my best decisions of my life. It’s fun to hear Glen Sather saying he formed his Oilers after the old Jets and the Montreal Canadiens. I believe we had a great impact on the hockey played today in North America.
Question: You arrived in North America just one year after Borje Salming. You stepped in and scored 120, one of four consecutive seasons with at least 114 points. You starred with Bobby Hull. But here in North America it is Borje Salming who gets the credit as the Swedish and
European trailblazer in North America. Don't you think you and Anders Hedberg deserve a better legacy in North America?
Answer: Yes, I think we should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, because of the things we did in Winnipeg!
Question: What was it like to play with Bobby Hull? How did he treat you?
Answer: Fantastic, we clicked from day one and Bobby had a simple philosophy “You work hard in practice, and then the game will be easy”.
Question: How important was Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the Jets success?
Answer: Very important, he was one of the best defensemen of all-time.
Question: Is there a Swedish player from your generation who could have come
over to North America and found great success, but never did?
Answer: Several players would have been great in the right environment, we were lucky to be 3 good players and with the support of Bobby Hull and a management that left us alone.
Question: Who was the best player you played against, be it NHL, WHA or internationally?
I played with Bobby Hull, I did not play against Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux in their prime. My career fell just between those four great North American players. I played against some great CCCP players, most of the people don’t remember the real big red machine. Those five I played against were, Gusev, Vasiliev, Michalov, Petrov and Charlamov!
Question: Why was it tougher to find success in the NHL when you joined the Rangers in 1978?
Answer: My first year before I broke my ankle in February was great. I took so much physical abuse during my 4 years in Winnipeg so I did not have anything left in my body. I believe that was the reason!
Question: How close are you with Anders Hedberg today? How about Bobby Hull?
Answer: Anders and I see each other fairly often, we both are living in Stockholm and unfortunately I don’t see Bobby, but when I see him it’s almost like yesterday!
Question: Can you tell our readers what Ulf Nilsson has been up to since leaving
the ice as a player?
Answer: I moved back to Sweden in 1999 after 25 years in North America, since April of 2001 I’m a partner in Qbrick AB www.qbrick.com, we are the leading hosting company in Scandinavia when it comes to streaming media. I travel 5-6 times a years to visit my 3 children who are all living in the New York area.