December 04, 2015

Ulf Samuelsson

Ulf Samuelsson was one of hockey's most feared and hardest-hitting defensemen.

He is most famous, or should we say infamous, for his questionable hit on Boston's Cam Neely in the 1991 playoffs.

Samuelsson, who conceded he "always played on the edge," had a long running feud with Neely going back to his days in Hartford. He will forever remain public enemy number one in Boston.

Samuelsson infamously hit Neely knee-on-knee during the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs, nearly ending the superstar's career and forever hobbling it.  Neely continued to play the final three games of playoff series, won by PIttsburgh, but the hit caused him to develop a degenerative muscle condition in his thigh that caused him to miss but nine games in 1991-92.  Subsequent surgeries never allowed Neely to play a full season again, and ultimately forced him to retire prematurely five year later at the age of 31.

Samuelsson became vilified as a dirty player, a reputation he never shook. He will always go down as one of hockey's villains. He was often the target of sucker punches and hard hits, with Tie Domi, Eric Lindros, Brad May, and, of course, broadcaster Don Cherry going after him.

Samuelsson defended the way he played by saying, "if I had to worry about being too aggressive, then forwards weren't being spanked and I wasn't doing my job."

Samuelsson was ultimately a tireless worker who compensated for lack of superstar talent with hard work.

"That's always been the name of my game," he said. "I may not have had the most skill, but I gave it all I could."

Samuelsson's hard work, physical play and defensive acumen earned him a cult following in Hartford. That fan favorite status continued in Pittsburgh, who acquired Samuelsson in a famously lopsided trade at the 1991 trade deadline.

Samuelsson, Ron Francis, and Grant Jennings went to the Penguins for Zarley Zalapski, John Cullen, and Jeff Parker. Francis was the superstar in the deal, but Ulf gave the Pens the necessary grit on the blue line to deliver immediate back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in Pittsburgh.

After five seasons in Pittsburgh, Samuelsson moved to the New York Rangers for four seasons. He finished his career with brief stops in Detroit and Philadelphia.

Samuelsson retired in 2000 with 57 goals, 275 assists and 2,453 penalty minutes in 1,080 career games over 16 NHL seasons. He was just the second Swedish player (Borje Salming was the first) to play 1000 games in the NHL.

"Hockey has been really good to me and my family," he said. "We have spent time in some great cities and have made a lot of friends along the way. I'm now excited to move on to the real world and try my luck there."

Samuelsson, who co-owned a used car dealership in Pittsburgh during his playing days, tried broadcasting before turning to coaching. He had previously worked as an electrician and a banker during off-seasons early in his career.

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