The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
It’s an impressive record that stands to this very day. On April 3, 1988, Hakan Loob became the first (and only) Swedish-born player to score 50 goals in a single NHL season. The record-setting tally came via a late third-period power play in the final game of the Calgary Flames’ 1987-88 campaign. The historic goal marked the high point of Loob’s spectacular six-year stay in Calgary that neatly wrapped up with No. 12 hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head in the famed Montreal Forum in 1989.
It’s actually quite fitting that the story of Loob’s journey with the Flames started in the very building where it ended in 1989. It was at the Forum where the Flames made the undersized 19-year-old Swede a ninth-round pick, 181st overall, in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft.
Loob Was Turning Heads Playing in the Swedish Elite League
After four seasons playing for his hometown club Farjestads BK (including a record-breaking 76 points in 36 games in 1983) Loob was getting noticed on the other side of the pond. Former Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher dubbed Loob the “Wayne Gretzky of Sweden,” and enticed the Swedish sniper to make the move to Calgary for the 1983-84 season. He did not disappoint.
Loob scored his first career NHL goal in his first game for the Flames in a 5-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 10, 1983. He would finish the season with 30 goals and 55 points and was named to the All-Rookie team. He remained among the team-leaders in points in following seasons, putting up two more 30-goal campaigns.
Loob was only 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, but he defied all expectations and quickly became a fan favourite. Whenever he found the back of the net, the Flames faithful would reward No. 12 with a hearty “Loooooooooob” cheer that would reverberate through the Saddledome rafters.
One Down Year Set up Loob’s Greatest Season as a Flame
After opening with a trio of excellent seasons that saw Loob score 30, 37 and 31 goals, the right winger had a down year in 1986-87, only scoring 18 goals and 44 points. This didn’t come close to meeting the high standard he had set for himself, so Loob was determined to bounce back in 1987-88.
The Flames decided to slot the skilled Swede on a line with Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. The chemistry was electric, as Loob led the team in scoring with 106 points, including those record-setting 50 goals. He bested his previous career high by a whopping 34 points and 13 goals, and for his efforts, he was named to the NHL All-Star team.
The 1987-88 season was obviously Loob’s most productive, but it certainly wasn’t his most memorable. Nothing can top the Flames’ championship run of 1988-89.
Loob had another excellent regular season in 1988-89, notching 85 points in 79 games, but it was helping the Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup that will forever link him with the organization. Over the course of his six playoff runs with Calgary, Loob added 26 more goals and 54 points, but it was point No. 54 that will remain his fondest memory.
It came on a quick passing play with Nieuwendyk on a three-on-one rush that set up Lanny McDonald’s final NHL goal. It also gave the Flames a lead against the Montreal Canadiens in the deciding Game 6 they would not relinquish.
While Loob will always be remembered as part of that historic group to hoist the Stanley Cup, he remembers almost dropping the trophy after being handed the championship prize while celebrating with his teammates on the ice at the Forum.
You know what? I regret that I didn’t drop it,” Loob told CalgaryFlames.com from his home in Karlstad, Sweden. “I could have been famous making the only dent in the cup. I can’t remember who handed it to me, but I almost fell. That would have been something.”
In six stellar seasons in the NHL, Loob scored 193 goals and 429 points in 450 games played, but after winning the Stanley Cup, he made the surprising decision to move back to his native Sweden to raise his family. He rejoined Farjestads BK, where he played seven more productive seasons in his homeland. Loob would also enjoy great success off the ice. After his playing days were over, he was named Farjestads’ general manager (GM), winning four championships in 11 years before being promoted to team president in 2008. He held that position until resigning in 2017 and was unsure what the next chapter of his life would have in store.
Reconnecting with the Flames Organization
It was a conversation in 2018 with former teammate Jim Peplinski that started the ball rolling on Loob returning to the team he had so many fond memories of. Flames management had cited a desire to grow its presence in Europe, so when GM Brad Treliving got wind the former sniper would consider a position within the organization, the two sides quickly connected. In June 2018, the Flames announced the hiring of Loob as the team’s head European pro scout, in charge of searching out undrafted European free agents who may have been overlooked by NHL clubs.
The relationship between the Flames and Loob now spans over four decades, so I think it’s safe to say the ORIGINAL legend to wear No. 12 will always hold a special place in the team’s history. He will never reach the iconic status of the most celebrated Flame to wear that number, but as a key member of the 1989 Stanley Cup-winning roster, he will never be forgotten.