Requests have been made to publish a translated version of the interview with Islander legend Stefan Persson. Here it is. Enjoy!
Considering the brief coverage of the NHL by Swedish media by that time, did you even know you’d been drafted in 1974? How did you recieve the news?
I recieved a phone call in the middle of the night from a person speaking a mix between Swedish and English. I didn’t understand much, couldn’t follow him.
He had introduced himself as I answered but I wasn’t awake enough to hear what he said. The person then asked if I knew who he was.
I had to say no, as I didn’t catch that part, and later I found out it was Des Moroney (former Canadian player who played in Sweden in the 60′s) who had called and it was all a bit embarrassing since I definitely knew who he was.
Once he had gone to school together with Al Arbour and he was asked to call me.
It really didn’t happen much after that call, I hardly knew what the draft was.
They (the Islanders) sent a Media Guide with some info about the team and some pictures.
I remember watching the team picture from the year before and I thought the all looked like a bunch of ”Mexican gangsters from the late 19th century” in their moustaches and long hair.
You were the only Swede on the team during your first two seasons. Did you have any part in the Islanders contacting and signing Anders Kallur? He was originally drafted by Hartford in the WHA but still he ended up on Long Island.
I don’t think I played any part in bringing Anders to Islanders. I answered a few questions about him but new player signings were handled over our heads.
Eddie Westfall was the team captain when you arrived to the NHL. How was he as a leader?
Ed came from the old generation, a guy who was easy to like, who kept everything simple and he probably had a good relation with most of the people within the organization.
He went out for a beer when it suited him and I don’t think he worked his butt off in the summertime to keep in shape. I liked him!
He stayed as a color commentator on our games so we spent a few years together.
I’ve read somewhere that you’ve described some of your games vs Philadelphia as a battlefield. How was it to play against the Flyers?
It was tough! If you had played by today’s rules the ice would’ve been pretty empty and so would the bench.
At that time they had 7-8 guys who you always watched out for, anything could happen. There were a lot of cheap shots going on far away from the play.
Luckily we were probably the team who best stood up against them when it came to fighting. None of our fighters feared them!
Defenseman Moose Dupont, broke my nose with a solid swing, something that could happen when playing them.
You were suspended for five games after a high-stick on Philly’s Darryl Stanley in a pre-season game. What happened? Was it an accident?
There was a scrum in front of their net where I got together with Mark Howe. Since I came in late as a defenseman when the scrum started the face off was moved to the neutral zone.
As I was skating back to the blue line my teammates yelled ”Heads up Steff”, I turned around with DS on his way to crosscheck me, so I swinged and struck first. Pretty ugly but absolutely nothing I regretted. I even think they took me for a crazy bastid, who was better to leave alone!
Your fighting record includes six fights in the NHL. Do you remember anything special about them?
Not much! I have a pretty good reach so I used to get a good grip and just hold them away from me.
1978-02-01 vs Phil Esposito (NYR)
Esposito was a crybaby and hated us Swedes, we got together at our blueline. The play continued down into Rangers zone.
We were stuck in our zone and started hitting each other, then Steve Vickers came and started grabbing me which had Chico Resch leave the crease to help me out. There were big headlines in NY media since Chico was a peaceful guy and an active church member.
1982-01-27 vs Rod Schutt (PIT)
1982-03-23 vs Torrie Robertson (WSH)
1982-04-29 vs Dale Hunter (QUE)
He was a good fighter, but I don’t remember that particular fight.
1982-10-14 vs Kevin McClelland (PIT)
His reach was good but I managed pretty well.
1984-02-11 vs Moe Lemay (VAN)
You participated at the ”Core of the four” a couple of years ago. Do you only meet your old friends at events like this or do you gather more often?
I only meet them when the Islanders call for things like that and on tournaments where they’re scouting, I was a member of the Swedish U20 staff for a couple of years and then you could spot a few in the stands.
Your were mostly paired together with ”Bammer” Langevin. Why do you think you were such a good match?
He was a guy who knew what he was good at and did the best of it, a good defensive game.
I was the one who carried the puck forward most of the time, that was my strength.
I think both of us were pretty humble and we both quickly adjusted to fit together.
I guess it was a bummer to miss the 1981 finals. Why did you have to block a shot with your jaw?
It was Dale Hunter (one of the Hunter brothers anyway?) in Edmonton who shot the puck, I deflected it with my stick and it flew straight into my face.
Not good, the smash was hard. Then, when you’re going to bite and it’s crooked you know something’s broken.
I had to use a straw for 6 weeks, I practiced and was skating all the time, which was nice. I probably would’ve played on emergency basis.
Now everything went our way so it was never considered.
The Islanders were very productive for many seasons. Did you ever talk about your individual point production? We all know about Bossy’s 50/50-challenge, but did you ever talk within the group about your personal goals when it came to scoring, since you were as superior as you were?
We never talked about points within the team but occasionally someone moaned about being in a slump.
Bossy’s way to exit a slump was to throw more pucks at the net and it worked well for him, of course he never had any long streaks.
But when Bossy chased 50/50 everyone was behind him and tried to do everything for him so he would succeed.
At one time when our powerplay didn’t click, me and Denis talked about it and what was wrong (we always sat next to each other through the years).
He said, ”Steff I know whats wrong”. Then he told me that he felt like he have had the puck too little on the PP. So if we just gave him the puck it would solve everything. Not many Swedes would say something like that, unfortunately!
How well did you know Pelle Lindbergh? I read in the biography ”Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask” that you sent condolences to his family after the tragic accident. Did you keep in touch during the time in USA or did you only meet at international tournaments?
We ran into each other after games etc, also at tournaments like the Canada Cup for example, where we played together.
A Swedish journalist (he didn’t introduce himself) called me very early on the morning Pelle crashed and asked me if I had Pelle’s phone number.
I had his number but I didn’t like his approach and the way he started the conversation, so I quickly told him no.
Later that morning I saw the news on TV and then there were constantly new updates of what had happened, very very sad! Those were rainy days!
You chose to end your time in the NHL when you were traded to the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 86-87 season. Why?
I declared to Bill Torrey early that season (Islanders GM) that this was my final season in the NHL and with the Islanders. I felt at that point that I had been through a fantasic journey with the team and different times lied ahead. Torrey probably wanted something of value for me and maybe he hoped a trade would change my mind.
When I heard I was traded it didn’t take long to make up my mind, to retire instantly.
Gunnar Nordström, who by then already worked for Expressen (Swedish newspaper), was going to Rio de Janeiro to cover the Formula 1 opening, so I tagged along with him instead.
We met ”Lill-Lövis” (Swedish race driver Stefan Johansson) who represented Ferrari and he also gave me a pitpass and it was an exciting experience.
The weather in April was a lot better in Rio than in Winnipeg!
When I came back home Torrey called me and admitted he had rushed things with me being traded at deadline.
He told me they (the Islanders) would pay my salary for the rest of the year even though they didn’t have to, which was a class act of him.
Was it a deliberate decision to go back home or more of a rash and emotional decision that you perhaps regret today?
It was not a rash decision, but of course I moved home too early in a way. But it’s nothing I regret today.
You are still holding a few team records (most points by a rookie defender (56), longest assist streak (9 split) and most assists by a defender in a single game (5). Isn’t it about time for someone to break any of these records? At least a rookie defenceman who will score more than 56 points? Who, among Islanders prospects, do you think has the best chance of breaking that record?
If I recall correctly the 56 points I registered was also an NHL record among rookie defenders at that time, that was pretty awesome.
Records are made to be broken but I’m sorry to say I’m not conversant enough with all the talented youngsters coming up in the organization right now. I’ll have to pass on that question.
How much do you follow the Islanders today?
I read the scores and get some info from Anders Kallur from time to time. We have suffered for many years now but I see a ray of light though.
Which Swedish Islander prospect do you consider have the best chance of making it to the NHL?
I hope (David) Ullström can take the last step, he definitely has the tools!
What do you do today? Work, spare time etc.
I’m a part owner of a company called Wackes AB, it helps other companies with their profiles.
I’m also sports director for Borås HC (in the Swedish second division Allsvenskan).
Further I’m a member of the SEL disciplinary comittee so my spare time is very limited. I’m working on my house, I play some golf and sometimes I go fishing in the summertime.