The first Viking: The story of Bjørn Skaare, the first Norwegian drafted to the NHL

October 29th, 1958 was a regular day for most Norwegian families, the Skaare family though, they welcomed a new child to the world, they named him Bjørn.

By 1976 Bjørn would be playing hockey, which to some in Norway would seem strange as skiing and football are the two most popular National sports. Playing his way up to the SHL he made his debut with Färjestad BK in 1976-77.

In 1977 Bjørn Skaare moved to Canada and was promptly signed by the Ottawa 67’s of the OMJHL, the 67’s were led by future NHL Star Bobby Smith. Ottawa wasted no time making sure that the talented playmaking Norwegian would line up with Bobby.

This move would pay off as Skaare registered 42 points in 38 games, Bjørn also had a physical style to his play sitting in the penalty box for 72 minutes in his only Canadian Junior season.

The 1978 NHL entry draft was a busy one and in the fourth round with the sixty second pick of the draft the Detroit Red Wings selected Skaare. He had become the FIRST ever Norwegian hockey player drafted to the NHL.

This was certainly a gamble of sorts on their behalf as plenty of euro players were drafted over the years and most failed to report to their NHL clubs either because of political issues or the NHL’s general hostility on ice towards European hockey players.

Björn was signed to a standard NHL contract and attended camp, the Wings were led by legendary Czech player Vaclav Nedomansky, Dale McCourt, and Reed Larson while Rogie Vachon and Jim Rutherford defended their goal.

Unable to land a spot out of camp Skaare was assigned to the Kansas City Red Wings of the CHL. Bjørn played alongside the likes of Ted Nolan and Mal Davis. Impressively enough he pulled off eight goals & twenty six assists in just thirty seven games. This was good enough for a call up to the big club.

On November 28th, 1978 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, Bjørn Skaare would make his debut and with it attached some history by becoming the first Norwegian ever to play a National Hockey League game.

Registering a single shot on goal vs the Rockies his night would not last long as a 6’3″, 215 pound bruising defenceman named Barry Beck crushed the 6-foot tall 180 pound Bjørn Skaare along the boards ending his night with an injury. The Red Wings would skate away with a tie game. Skaare was promptly sent back down to Kansas City.

Having enough of living in North America, Skaare moved back to Norway in 1979 where he would continue his dominance of hockey in his homeland. In 1981 while earning the honors of the golden puck, Skaare led his club Furuset to two National titles in 1981 and 1983.

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In between both championships he ventured to another relatively unknown hockey country, Austria, he dominated the league playing for Klagenfurter AC scoring 76 points in just 38 games.

Returning to Norway in 1983-84 he was named to the Norwegian All-Star team after scoring another 54 points in just 23 games.

At the 1984 Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, Skaare and Team Norway would be placed in Group B which included Czechoslovakia, Canada, Finland, USA & Austria. The Norwegians were in trouble.

Just two games into it, Norway had already been outscored 26-6, losing to Czechoslovakia 10-4 and Finland 16-2. Up next were the Americans. A daunting task indeed the Norwegians pulled off a miracle of sorts tying the Americans 3-3. After that a series of losses would come, one an 8-1 loss to Canada and a nailbiter against Austria losing 6-5. When all was said and done, Norway went winless and Skaare finished with four assists.

North American hockey came calling again, this time it was with the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL. Now the 1984 Tulsa Oilers have a strange history, the team suspended operations in mid February opting to only play road games for the final six weeks of the regular season. Skaare played in just two regular season games scoring two points before dominating the Adams playoffs with two goals and seven assists for nine points in nine games as the Tulsa Oilers won the Adams Cup!

However, none of this would be enough to attract another chance at the NHL. This time homesick of sorts, Bjørn would return to Norway once more.

Playing from 1984 to 1987 in Norway he would suit up for one more season with Furuset before concluding his career with SK Bergen scoring 48 points in 27 games.

On June 10th 1989 Norway’s hockey legend was in a terrible accident. He was leaving Sweden and heading for Oslo when he lost control of his car. His resulting injuries led him to the hospital where he would pass away tragically in June 21st 1989 at the age of 30 years old.

On August 14th 1989 his son Christoffer Ericsson would be born never knowing his father. Christoffer, like his father would also go on to play hockey. He played for Järnbrotts HK Div 3 in Sweden from 2010 to 2016.

Bjørn Skaare’s number 7 would be retired by Furuset. Many of his records still stand in Norway and he is greatly remembered for his skills. Skaare represented Norway at two World Championships and the Olympics. He was a four time Norwegian All Star and won the Norwegian National Championship in 1983.

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Two more Norwegians would be drafted after Skaare, neither made the NHL. The next Norwegian to play in the NHL wouldn’t happen until 1997 when Espen Knutsen made his NHL debut for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks a full seven years after he was drafted in 1990.

In total, 20 Norwegians have been drafted to the NHL. Ironically, the most well known of Norwegian NHL players is Mats Zuccarello who, went undrafted, currently plays for the New York Rangers, and will suit up for his 500th NHL game the next time the Rangers take the ice.

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