Long before the chants of “Ig-gy, Ig-gy” or “Kip-per, Kip-per” echoed within the Saddledome walls, there was one syllable that resonated from the Flames faithful. Every time the original #12 lit the lamp, in one harmonized tone, the sounds of “Looooooooooooooooob” could be heard from the stands.
Håkan Loob’s name is not often included amongst the likes of Nieuwendyk, Fleury, MacInnis, Vernon, or even Iginla and Kiprusoff, as the all-time greatest to play here in Calgary; but I’m telling you here and now, it would be a mistake to over-look the contributions he made to this organization and this city.
What started this series off was the noting of the Flames particular phenomena of taking risks with draft choices. We saw it with Sergei Makarov and while you would never really look to compare the careers of the two players, there are some similarities in the two, even though they seemed to be polar opposites.
DEDICATION AND FOCUS
In his younger years, Loob was a multi-sport kid. He started playing hockey at the age of five, but also delved into other interests like tennis, soccer, handball and even sailing. As a teen he was one of Sweden’s top table tennis players. But at the age of fifteen, he made the decision to drop all external interests to focus on the game of hockey and his division three senior team, IK Graip.
After two years in division three, he spent a couple more with division two’s Karlkrona IK. From there he would he would play with Färjestad Bollklubb in the Elitserien (SEL), scoring 15 goals and 19 points in 36 games. With his help, FBK won their first title as SEL champions.
In his four years with FBK, Loob would be a better than 1PPG (1.15PPG), including his historic 1982-83 season where he tallied 42 goals and 76 points. Both records he still holds today.
Two years prior, the Calgary Flames would select Loob in the 9th round, 181st overall. Much like the Makarov pick, selecting Loob was a risk. At 5’9” and 176 lbs, many thought Loob was a too small for the North American game, which in turn made him a huge gamble. Much like Makarov, Loob was considered a wasted pick since the Flames would be in tough to convince Loob to leave the controlled type European game to come play in the free-wheeling NHL.
After his record setting season in ’82-83, Loob was seriously injured in the finals against Stockholm’s Djurgarden. Would this be the deciding measure against Loob coming to play in North America where there was more body-checking on a smaller ice surface? With all of the Flames attention on him, it ended up being a turning point in his career. Unlike Makarov, the Flames were not going to have to wait until Loob reached the twilight of his career to see their draft choice come to fruition. At 23, Loob decided to make the transition to the NHL.
HOW SWEDE IT IS
In his debut season with the Flames, Loob scored 30 goals and registered 55 points, good enough to be named to the All Rookie Team. Unfortunately, due to his previous experience with the SEL, he was not considered a rookie, making him ineligible for Calder consideration.
In his second season in the NHL, Loob would improve to 37 goals, tying him for the team lead with countryman, Kent Nilsson, and 72 points. After the departure of Nilsson in the 85-86 season, Loob would entrench himself as a quiet leader amongst his teammates, assuming the role as top goal scorer for the club (31) and placing in the top five for points for both the regular season and in the playoffs as the Flames made their first run to the Stanley Cup.
Loob’s numbers dropped the following year due to a shoulder injury that would eventually require surgery. As a result, he would have his least productive NHL season with 18 goals and 44 points. It was a contentious time for the young Swede and his family. Already he was contemplating returning home to Sweden, and it took everything the Flames management had to convince him to stay. Rolling the dice a second time doesn’t often pay out, but it did for the Flames. When Loob returned for 1987-88 season, it would result in another historic record setting chapter in his career.
Håkan came back with a vengeance. He would the Flames in goals and manage a 1.35 PPG average for a 106 point season. The record setting highlight came in the last game of the year in front of a capacity crowd, when he scored his 49th and 50th goals of the season, making him the first and only Swedish born player to score 50 in the NHL (a record that continues to stand to this day). He also set a Flames record for scoring five hat tricks that season and his fifty goals placed him sixth in the league in that category.
And lest we all forget that he received the Viking Award as voted on by his Swedish peers in the NHL.
Even though the Flames brass had convinced him to stay in North America when he yearned to return to his homeland, Loob was still an instrumental cog for Sweden on the international stage. In that same year, he was a standout on a well balanced team that featured dominant players. His 9 points in 8 games helped the Swedes win their fourth Gold medal at the World Hockey Championships.
We all know the significance of the 1988-89 season for the city of Calgary, the Flames and of course Lanny MacDonald. The three are all inter-twined with a special play… on a special night, that was actually all started by a special player.
ONLY A MATTER OF TIME
Though he only played six season in Calgary, in the NHL even, Håkan Loob left his mark with this team. 193 goals, 236 assists for 429 points in 450 games. In the end there were just some things that were more important and it was only a matter of time before something had to give.
Following the Flames Stanley Cup, Loob had finally made the decision that it was time for him and his family to return to Sweden. Both of his children were of the age that he felt that if they stayed in North America for much longer they would lose too much of their Swedish heritage, so he left.
His departure from the Flames wasn’t based on contracts, in fact the Flames tried rolling the dice for a third time by throwing a lot of money at the right winger, but it wasn’t about the money. There were no hard feelings between player and management. Håkan Loob was only 28 years old – he was in the prime of his career. With his skill and the quality of the team, he was more than capable of more 50 goal seasons and more Stanley Cups, but for his family, it was time to go home.
"I have to realize my family is a big thing in my life. I could probably play another few years, but I’m just happy with the six years I had in Calgary. Cliff Fletcher treated me as well as anybody ever treated me in my whole life. I think Calgary Flames were pretty happy with what I’ve done for them and I’m certainly very happy with what they’ve done for me." —Loob in 1989, explaining his reasoning for leaving Calgary
Upon returning to Färjestad and the SEL, Loob picked up right where he left off before joining the Flames. In 40 games he tallied 22 goals and led the league with 53 points. He bettered that the following year with 33 goals and his 66 points, which again led the SEL. He was awarded the ”Golden Helmet” as the league’s most valuable player as voted on by his peers. He would do that all again the very next season as well.
Loob played four more seasons in the Elitserien, retiring in 1996. Despite the six seasons he spent in the NHL, Håkan retired from the SEL as the all-time leading goal scorer with 305. In commemoration of his skill and his loyalty to Sweden and the Elitserien, the league created the Håkan Loob Trophy, which is awarded to the player that scores the most regular season goals in the SEL.
Loob’s story didn’t end with retirement and neither did his success. Färjestad promoted him to GM and in his first two seasons in the role he was rewarded with two championships. In his eleven years as the GM for his team, he would reach the finals eight times and take home four championships. The Färjestad organization rewarded his success by promoting him to team president in 2008.
Though returning to Sweden was something Håkan Loob could not resist, he never turned his back on his second family, the Calgary Flames. He continued to follow the team and keep in touch with close friends such as Joe Nieuwendyk.
Related – I will never forget the night last season, when Pat Steinberg was on Overtime talking about the Flames struggles as being a playoff bubble team. The fans were angry and frustrated that it was always the feeling of one step forwards was followed with two steps back whenever they approached the 8th seed spot. It was poetic when Pat returned to the phone lines, only to have Håkan Loob on the other end of the call. He had been talking to Craig Conroy while Conny was scouting in Sweden and had learned of the state of the fans faithfulness. He took it upon himself to call and let everyone know that he believed in the team.
By the end of the story it didn’t matter if it was the Flames that took a chance on Loob, or if Loob took a chance on the Flames. Both parties were the better for the relationship. It may be wild speculation on my part, but it might just have been the success the Flames had in gambling on a late round pick that led them to take the chance 3 years after Loob, when they drafted Sergei Makarov. Whether it was only getting Loob at the beginning of his career or Makarov at the end, both players left us wondering “what if”.. What if we had had both of these players for the majority of their careers? It would have been something special to see them both on the same team, the magic they might have created, especially when you throw Kent Nilsson into the mix.
He may not have had an extended career in Calgary, but he was one that made the most of the time he did have here. Just like it was only a matter of time before Loob had to choose between the NHL and his family, it will only be a matter of time before the Flames organization will have to decide whether or not to honour Loob as “Forever A Flame”. Personally I think it’s a no brainer…but for now we honour him as the 7th best draft pick in Flames history.