Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of Mats Ulander. He’s an icon in the Swedish top tier, where he recorded 231 points in 306 games. He won two championships in Sweden, in 1982 and 1984, but he never played in the NHL, and he only played one World Championship with team Sweden.
When he finally got the chance to play in the tournament, he only managed to score one goal and two points in ten games, so he didn’t really leave a standing mark internationally. But he did for Wayne Gretzky.
Yes, The Great One played in that World Championship. He was still young but came from a record-breaking season with 92 goals and 212 points in the NHL. In the World Championship, he scored 14 points in ten games, and he was, of course, the biggest star there. But during the tourney, Gretzky met with Mats Ulander, and it was the start of an unexpected friendship.
”I met him when Daoust, who made skates, wanted to do a job with him and me, and we started talking. They were shooting some photos, and we did everything at his hotel room,” Ulander told Swedish hockey site Hockeysverige.
”Those days, nobody cared if you went out for a drink if you had the night off. We went to a bar in Helsinki called Silverbar, and me and Gretzky found each other in some way.”
When Ulander came to ”Silverbar,” Gretzky was already there. And The Great One had a big surprise waiting for his new Swedish friend.
”When I arrived, Gretzky was sitting there with a photographer who always followed him around. He was almost like a little smurf,” he said.
”Where Gretzky was sitting, every inch of the table was covered with beers. It was people around him, but Gretzky had apparently told everyone there that no one gets to drink until I arrived. So when I came in, everyone was happy because they could finally have one.”
Ulander had actually been drafted by the Edmonton Oilers some years before, but he never made it over to Canada.
”I asked Wayne if he thought that I should go over and give it a shot, but it came to nothing. I had a contract in Sweden, and as Edmonton was relatively new in the NHL, nobody had heard about them.”
”I had an offer on the table, I think it was for like $80 000. Of course, now when I think about, I should have taken the chance.”