Even the most ardent Swedish hockey fans do not know the name Monte Afzelius. But there is some evidence he may have been the first Swedish player in NHL history.
Until further proof, Gus Forslund retains the title as the first Swedish born player in National Hockey League history, Afzelius is believed to the be the first to play hockey in North America at the very least.
Afze Afzelius, known as Monte to everybody, was born way back in 1889. He grew up in Gavle, Sweden, starring in bandy and soccer for IFK Gavle until 1909. He then moved to Stockholm to play for AIK until 1912.
In 1912 Monte and his brother Arvid moved to North America, specifically Detroit where they sought an old friend named Robert Blom. The brothers would find work in "the Motor City," with Monte (possibly Arvid, too) working at the Ford plant.
Monte wrote a letter back to Sweden in 1915 in which he claims to have founded "The Swedish Hockey Club" in Detroit. It is believed to have been the first Swedish hockey team ever, as Canadian hockey did not migrate to Sweden until 1920.
He would write another letter years later where he curiously proclaimed to be playing hockey for the Montreal Canadiens sometime between 1916 and 1918.
He wrote he had "been enrolled by a Canadian hockey team, the Montreal Canadians...that have been playing hockey since 1885."
Detroit city directories lose track of Afzelius after 1916, so it is possible he moved to Montreal. But in all the extensive research of hockey history in Montreal and especially with the Canadiens (who came into existence only in 1909), there was never any mention of anyone named Monte or Afzelius playing with Les Habitants.
While it is possible Afzelius was living in Montreal at the time, it seems highly unlikely he played for the Canadiens. Perhaps he played under an assumed name? Or perhaps he was embellishing his stories headed back home?
Letters written by Monte traced his return to Sweden in 1920 where he wanted to form a Swedish hockey league. His stay in his home country was short though as he returned to the United States in 1921, apparently setting up shop as a carpenter in Akron, Iowa where he lived with his wife Olga.
Afzelius' curious story all but ends at that stage. He may have resettled in Detroit at some point, while government records list his date of death as January 13, 1962, in Los Angeles.