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Top 100 Goalies: No. 71 — Pelle Lindbergh

One can only imagine the heights that Lindbergh might have reached had his life not been cut short.

If Pelle Lindbergh didn’t love fast cars so much, he’d rank much higher on our list of the NHL’s top 100 goalies. How much higher? Perhaps inside the top 20. Perhaps even higher. But we’ll never know, because a preventable accident took his life just when he’d arrived as an NHL icon.

Lindbergh’s career trajectory screamed stardom from the moment he popped up on NHL scouts’ radars. Representing Sweden, he was named best goalie at the 1979 World Junior Championship. The Philadelphia Flyers drafted him in the second round that year. In 1980-81, he won the AHL’s MVP award. As Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke remembers it, Lindbergh seemed poised to become the best Swedish goaltender ever by the time he arrived in the NHL in 1981-82. Lindbergh wasn’t imposing at 5-foot-9, but he had jaw-dropping reflexes and played his angles well.

By 26, he’d battled Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup final, won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie and even finished third in MVP voting. Tragically, Lindbergh never saw 27.

Lindbergh was obsessed with powerful sports cars. Clarke, Lindbergh’s teammate and later GM, remembers him taking his Porsche 930 Turbo to Germany to get a bigger, more powerful engine installed. He’d bring the car to the Pocono Raceway. “He loved speed, and he had people teaching him at the Pocono,” Clarke said. “Racing people. I don’t know if you think something bad is going to happen, but the speed he drove should’ve indicated it to us. We talked to him about driving properly, but he just thought it was fun. He never thought of himself as being reckless or speeding. He just drove that way. He was a speedy driver and paid an ultimate price.”

Whereas police crack down hard on speeders today, Clarke says things were more lenient in 1985, and Lindbergh “never drove like he was afraid of getting a speeding ticket.”

It was Nov. 10, 1985. Lindbergh had just secured a six-year contract, and his team went out to a bar to celebrate a 10-game winning streak. He had too much to drink – way too much. His blood-alcohol level was later revealed as 0.24, well above the 0.10 legal limit at the time. He was behind the wheel of the Porsche just after 5:30 a.m. with two friends and didn’t see a concrete wall in front of a schoolhouse until it was too late. The car smashed into it. Rubber skid marks were found at the scene. Lindbergh had overshot a curve in the road. Lindbergh’s friends survived, but he didn’t. He left behind his fiancee Kerstin.

Clarke describes Lindbergh as a kind, gentle man bonded to team culture, contradicting the stereotype of the aloof, quirky goalie. His death, so easily avoidable, broke the franchise’s heart and robbed the NHL of a player who may have become a legend. “He came to the NHL, and even though he lasted three-and-a-half years, he was a top three-and-a-half-year guy,” Clarke said. “It’s an awful way of putting it. I don’t know how that projects into what his future would’ve been, but he was for his short life a great goalie. I don’t think that would’ve changed. If anything, he would’ve gotten better.”

Born: May 24, 1959, Stockholm, Swe.
NHL Career: 1981-85
Teams: Phi
Stats: 87-49-15, 3.31 GAA, .887 SP, 7 SO
Awards: 1 (Vezina)
All-Star: 1 (First-1)

DID YOU KNOW?

Playing for the Flyers was a dream come true for Lindbergh, who grew up worshipping Bernie Parent. Lindbergh modelled his white mask after Parent’s and played a similar style, relying largely on playing the angles to outsmart shooters. It was especially magical for Lindbergh to have the retired Parent as his goaltending coach. Parent described Lindbergh as “like a son to me” and gave the eulogy at his service.

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