Bjorn Skaare became the first Norwegian born player in the NHL when he skated on to the ice at McNicholls Arena in Denver on November 29, 1978. His Detroit Red Wings tied the Colorado Rockies 2-2. Skaare recorded on shot on goal in limited ice time before leaving the game with an injury. A thunderous Barry Beck hit ended his debut, an ecstatic Bjorn Skaare had accomplished a long life dream of playing in the NHL.
Little did he know then that he would never play another game in the National Hockey League.
"Botta," as he was nicknamed, was an extremely determined player. His former teammates on the Norwegian national team tell stories how they went out for a beer or two after their practice was over, but not Skaare. He continued to train, shooting pucks or spending time in the weight room. He gave that little extra all the time. It paid off with a shot at the NHL.
Born in Oslo in 1958, it was evident early on that Skaare was a greater talent than most of his Norwegian teammates. Norway has never been a hockey power, so in order to develop his skills Bjorn went to Sweden as a 17-year old to play in the junior league there. He starred with Farjestad, impressing management with his fine play so much that they eventually had to give him a shot with the seniors.
After the 1976-77 season in Sweden, Skaare set his sights on North America. He went on to play for the Ottawa 67's in the OHA, where his teammates included future NHLers Bobby Smith, Jim Fox, Tim Higgins, Doug Crossman, Ed Hospodar and Steve Payne. Skaare played well enough to get the attention of scouts, scoring 12 goals and 42 points in 38 games. Detroit selected him in the 6th round, 62nd overall in the 1978 draft.
Skaare entered the Detroit training camp only 19-years old and did pretty well. He was sent down to Detroit's farm team in the CHL (Kansas Cíty) where he played very well, collecting 34 points in 37 games. This also led to his one game call up to Detroit later that season.
Unfortunately the climate was pretty tough in the minor leagues, especially for a barely 20-year old Norwegian. Bjorn could have stayed over in North America but opted going back to Norway again and play for his original club Furuset. He of course dominated the Norwegian league and was the leading scorer in all kind of categories.
Clubs around Europe showed interest in the young Norwegian, and when the Austrian team KAC-Sparkasse offered a substantial amount of money he couldn't resist. Bjorn was an instant hit in the Austrian league where he was teamed with ex-Czech national team player Eduard Novak and Austrian national team player Rudolf Konig. Bjorn finished among the top ten scorers and was playing great. After another season in Austria he made another attempt to play in the NHL. It was the 1983-84 season, he failed and played a couple of games in the CHL for the Tulsa Oilers.
Skaare went back to Norway where he continued to shine until his tragic death at the age of just 30. He suffered fatal injuries in a car accident in Sweden on June 10, 1989. Eleven days later he passed away.
Bjorn Skaare never achieved any fame in North America but home in Norway he was the most respected player of his time. His hard work and dedication took him to another level than his Norwegian colleagues. He still had a few good playing years left in him when he so suddenly passed away.
Special thanks to Patrick Houda