Per-Eric Göran "Pelle" Lindbergh (Swedish pronunciation: ˈpɛlɛ ˈlindbærj - Born May 24, 1959 in Stockholm, Sweden – Died November 11, 1985 in Somerdale, New Jersey, USA was a Swedish ice Hockey goaltender.
When Lindbergh was an infant, his father signed him up as a member of the local Hammarby IF athletic association. Growing up in a working class neighbourhood on the south side of Stockholm, it did not take the boy long to figure out that his favorite place to be was the Hockey rink.
Lindbergh was only four years old when he started playing Hockey and, at five, received his first goalie equipment as a Christmas present. One of Lindbergh's most vivid childhood memories was watching the World Championships on television. "I remember a Canadian goalie named Seth Martin and especially liked his mask," recalled Lindbergh years later. "After watching him play, I said to myself, 'that's what I want to do.' From the age of ten on, it was my goal to become a professional goaltender."
Lindbergh began his Hockey career in 1969 with Hammarby's organized boys team. An early influence on the young goaltender was Curt Lindström (the former national team coach of Sweden and, later, Finland). Lindström told the twelve year old Per-Erik that he could be destined for greatness. It was also Lindström who showed Lindbergh a film of Flyers goaltending great Bernie Parent in action during the 1975 Stanley Cup finals against the Buffalo Sabres. From that point on, Parent became Lindbergh's Hockey idol.
Lindbergh wore a mask identical to Parent's, studied Bernie's stand-up positioning, and even copied many of Parent's after-the-whistle mannerisms. Because of his affinity for Parent, Lindbergh adopted the Flyers as his favorite NHL team. In a time when the fondest dream of most Swedish players was to suit up for the national team (landslaget), Pelle had his sights set on playing in the NHL.
In 1977, Lindbergh made his debut for the Swedish junior national team, winning the European Junior Championships and winning recognition as the best goalie in the tournament. After one year in Division One Hockey, Lindbergh was forced to change clubs in order to reach his goal of becoming a pro goalie. In 1979, he joined AIK Solna in Elitserien (the Swedish Elite League). He was 20 years of age at the start of the season. Lindbergh played in 31 games, recording 2 shutouts. That year, he starred in the World Junior Championships and was selected the best goaltender in the tournament.
Lindbergh was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft (second round, 35th overall).
Lindbergh made the Sweden Men's National Ice Hockey Team / Tre Kronor for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. Lindbergh owns the distinction of being the goaltender on the only team that did not lose to the gold medal winning Miracle on Ice Team USA at the 1980 Olympics, as Team Sweden and Team USA played to a 2–2 tie in the first game of the tournament. Team Sweden would win the Bronze Medal.
Lindbergh started his North American Hockey career during the 1980–81 season by playing one and a half seasons for the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League. In 1980-81, Lindbergh backstopped the Mariners to the finals of the Calder Cup (AHL championship) losing 4 games to 2.
Lindbergh would win the AHL's MVP award in 1981.
The following season, he made his NHL debut, getting into 8 games for the Flyers. Finally, in 1982-83, Lindbergh got an extended shot with the Flyers and outplayed Rick St. Croix to claim the starter's job.
In 1983, he was named goalie of the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Lindbergh was the first goalie to bring a water bottle on ice with him during NHL games. Lindbergh did this to combat severe dehydration he commonly suffered from. This practice first drew criticism from opponents and coaches alike, but is now the norm for NHL goaltenders.
Lindbergh led the NHL with 40 victories during the 1984–85 season and on June 13, 1985 at the Metro Convention Center in Toronto, Pelle Lindbergh was announced as the winner of the Vezina Trophy. The trophy was presented to him by boyhood idol, Bernie Parent (himself a two time Vezina winner). Parent, the Flyers goaltending coach, had become not just a mentor to Lindbergh, but a close friend. Upon accepting the award, Lindbergh dedicated the honor to Parent.
Lindbergh became the first European goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy in NHL history.
Lindbergh was also named to the post-season NHL All-Star team, becoming the second Swede to be so honored (Börje Salming was the first).
Lindbergh was on top of the world in the summer of 1985. He was one of the most popular players on the Flyers, among the fans, media and his teammates alike. Even his Hockey rivals liked him as a person and, more importantly, had the utmost respect for his abilities on the ice. Kudos poured in from around the Hockey world. Glen Sather, coach of Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers, admitted that he was impressed by the young goaltender. Shortly after the 1985 Cup Finals, Sather said, "Philadelphia has a lot of good young players, but Lindbergh is the guy who gives them their edge. If he stays healthy, Philadelphia is going to have many more trips to the Cup finals in their future. That kid is just a sensational goalie. Don't get me wrong. There are many good goalies in the league, but Pelle and Grant Fuhr are the cream of the crop. They are going to be neck-and-neck for the Vezina for a long time to come."
Lindbergh got off to a fine start in the 1985-86 season, playing brilliantly in six of his first eight starts. On November 6, 1985, Lindbergh performed well in a 6-2 Flyers victory over Chicago. Nobody knew it at the time, but it would turn out to be his last game.
On Saturday, November 9, the Flyers had a game against the Boston Bruins. Because Lindbergh had played a number of consecutive games, Keenan gave him the night off. Backup goaltender Bob Froese backstopped the Flyers to a 5-3 victory. After the game, Lindbergh drove his sedan home to King's Grant in Marlton, New Jersey. He soon received a phone call, inviting him to join a team party over at the restaurant/bar adjacent to the Flyers practice facility. Not only were many of his Flyers teammates present, so too was a man named Ed Parvin, who was a friend of many players on the team (his father was the real estate agent who sold many of the players' their homes). Parvin had visited Pelle in Stockholm the previous summer. Lindbergh kissed his girlfriend, Kerstin Pietzsh, goodbye and told her that he was going to the Coliseum for a while.
Leaving the sedan at home, Lindbergh went off to meet his teammates and friends in his beloved, custom-made Porsche 930 Turbo. Lindbergh's main vice in life was a love of fast cars and boats. He owned a speed boat, which he loved to race around the Stockholm coast during the summer. When he got behind the wheel of his 565 horsepower Porsche, which had cost him almost one million SEK (roughly $125,000), he always tried to test it to the limit.
With the Flyers off to a fine early season start and with the team having the next five days off, there was an especially jovial and relaxed mood at the Coliseum that night. Most everyone stayed longer- and drank more- than they typically would. The party went on well into early Sunday morning. Parvin and a female companion, Kathy McNeal, had gotten a ride to the Coliseum and did not have any transportation home. Lindbergh offered to drive them back.
With a blood alcohol level nearly double the legal limit, Lindbergh got behind the wheel of the Porsche and sped off. Parvin was seated on the passenger side of the two-seat car. McNeal squeezed in the middle, atop the console. A little more than 10 minutes later, at 5:30 am, Lindbergh's impaired judgment, slowed reflexes, and tendency to push the pedal to the metal, combined to have tragic consequences. The Porsche failed to negotiate a steep curve and slammed into a retaining wall in front of a school in Sommerdale, New Jersey. The collision was so violent that the entire hood of the car was pushed into the driver's side.
Lindbergh suffered a badly broken leg, a broken hip, a broken jaw, and most seriously of all, brain injuries. The brain stem, which among other things, controls the flow of oxygen in the body, was injured so badly that he stopped breathing 15 minutes before the ambulance personnel arrived on the scene of the accident. After the accident, Lindbergh was rushed to the John F Kennedy Hospital in Stratford, New Jersey. During the rescue work that took place in the ambulance, Lindbergh's heart stopped beating but the EMTs succeeded in bringing him in alive to the hospital, where he has later declared braindead. Parvin was taken to another hospital, where he was treated for his own critical injuries, while McNeal's condition was stable. She was treated at the hospital in Stratford. Both Parvin and McNeal survived the accident.
A respirator was left on until Lindbergh's father could be flown in from Sweden. Then, after saying their final farewell to Pelle at the hospital, his relatives decided to have the respirator turned off and to donate Pelle's organs (heart, liver, kidneys and corneas). The transplanted organs ended up saving the lives of several gravely ill people. As Mike Keenan later said, it was "Pelle's final- and greatest- save."
Lindbergh's American funeral was held at the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church in Philadelphia on Thursday, November 14, 1985. The next night, the Flyers held a special tribute to Lindbergh before their game against the Edmonton Oilers. Gene Hart delivered an eloquent and soothing memorial speech. After the game, Sigge Lindbergh, who could not speak English, conveyed his feelings by going around to every one associated with the team, looking them in the eyes and shaking their hands. Lindbergh's locker space was left empty for the rest of the season, a small Swedish flag placed atop it.
Back home in Sweden, there were also moments of special tribute around the Swedish Elite League and arrangements had been made before the next Hammarby game to announce the establishment of a memorial fund for Pelle Lindbergh. Immediately after the Philadelphia funeral, Lindbergh's remains were returned to Sweden for a second funeral and burial.
Pelle Lindbergh is buried in Södra Skogkyrkagården, a cemetery in southern Stockholm.
Although his number 31 was never officially retired by the Philadelphia Flyers, no Flyer has worn the number 31 since Lindbergh's death.
Awards and Achievements
- Named best goaltender at the European Junior Championships in 1976, and 1977.
- Selected to the WJC All-Star Team in 1978.
- Named best goaltender at the WJC in 1978.
- Silver Medal Winner 1978 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
- Bronze Medal Winner 1979 World Ice Hockey Championships.
- Bonze Medal Winner 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games.
- Selected to the Swedish World All-Star Team in 1979, 1980, and 1983.
- Selected to the AHL First All-Star Team in 1981.
- Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award winner in 1981 (shared with Robbie Moore).
- Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Award winner in 1981.
- Les Cunningham Award winner in 1981.
- Selected to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1983.
- Selected to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1985.
- Vezina Trophy winner in 1985.
- Played in 1983, 1985 NHL All-Star Games.
- Selected to the 1986 NHL All-Star Game posthumously.
The Philadelphia Flyers named a team award, the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy, in his honor. Since the 1993–94 season it has been annually awarded to the most improved player on the team.