Anders Eldebrink never made an impact in the NHL but he was a key cog on the Swedish national team for the entire 1980's and is extremely well respected back in Sweden. He was voted as the best left-side defenseman in Swedish hockey history by Swedish hockey fans in 1995.
He grew up in the small northern town of Kalix but moved to Södertälje, near Stockholm, as a youngster where he played most of his career. His older brother Kent was a world class javelin thrower and represented Sweden many times in that discipline. But Anders naturally turned to hockey, as most kids did in Kalix.
Anders was a five year veteran of the Swedish Elite league when he came to the NHL barely 21-years old. He had been signed as a free agent by Vancouver Canucks on May 18, 1981 and went over to North America that same fall. He had a fine rookie camp and made the Canucks team right away. He played 38 games during the regular season, collecting 9 points and then played another 13 games in the playoffs as Vancouver went on to have their cinderella season when they made it all the way to the finals.
Anders however lacked the maturity and patience at that time and never got a real crack at making it in Vancouver. The following season (1982-83) he was traded to Quebec for goalie John Garrett. He saw limited ice time in Quebec as well and was mainly playing for their Fredericton farm team in the AHL.
After only two seasons over in North American Anders headed home again, back to Södertälje. Later Anders would admit that regreted that he hadn't stayed in Sweden for a longer time.
"I went over to North America way too early. I wasn't mature enough and I guess I had too much respect. I also never got much icetime from neither Harry Neale or Roger Neilson," he said of the Canucks coaches.
Although his NHL career was over early on, he went on to become a dominant force on the Swedish national team and in the Swedish Elite league for many years. Anders developed into a lethal powerplay specialist with a deadly shot. His offensive play was his strongest weapon. He was a great puck handler and a very mobile defenseman. He was always among the highest scoring defensemen in the Swedish league. In 1985 he led his Södertälje team to the Swedish title.
His finest moments though came when he put on the Swedish national team jersey. He participated in six World Championships, two Canada Cups and one Olympic tournament. Anders especially excelled when Sweden became the World Champions in 1987. Although he didn't make the All-Star team, most people considered Anders to be the best defenseman of the tournament. He was +14 in the tournament and played extremely well in both ends of the ice.
At a dinner party after the Swedes had won the Gold he got a fine acknowledgement from two Russian giants, Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.
"It was really nice to hear both Fetisov and Kasatonov say that they thought I was the best defenseman in the tournament. To hear it from two such great players made me proud," Anders said.
That 1987 tournament was one of Anders highlights during his playing career.
"The feeling when the national anthem was played after we had won the Gold can't be described" Anders said. "It sent shivers down my spine. I was extremely proud to be a Swede at that moment."
In 1988 Anders won the "player of the year" award in Sweden. In 1989 he eventually got some personal revenge as he made the World All-Star team (World Championships).
In the late 1980's Anders was still "hot" on the European market and when he was offered a lucrative contract from the Swiss team Kloten, and he couldn't resist the temptation. Anders went on to play in Kloten for six seasons, between 1990-95, and 1996-97, returning to Södertälje for the 1995-96 season. He was a standout in Switzerland, finishing among the top scoring defensemen each season.
Anders retired after the 1996-97 season and went back to his longtime club Södertälje to work in the front office there.
Not many hockey fans in North America knows who Anders Eldebrink is, but in Sweden he is still well respected wherever he shows up. His NHL career didn't pan out but his European career was extremely successful and rewarding.
Special Thanks to Patrick Houda