It’s In the Cards: Ulf Dahlen

The NHL is far from a perfect league and I’m sure there are many things we would all like to change. Me personally, I’m distressed that there are no longer any Ulfs in the league.

From birth I had always had an Ulf in the league. First Ulf Nilsson, later to be followed by Ulf Samuelsson, then finally the glorious era of a two Ulf league when Ulf Dahlen broke into the NHL with the Rangers in 1987.

And break into the league he did. Dahlen put up 29 goals, 52 points in 70 games in the 1987-88 season. This sounds impressive now, but at the time this probably limited him to third line duties (I miss 80’s hockey.) Dahlen also find himself suited towards these checking roles as he was far more comfortable using his 6’2 frame than most of the other European players of his time. It served him well, as he lacked the speed of most of the other Europeans of his time.

Picked 7th overall by the Rangers in the 1985 draft, Dahlen would play for Bjorkloven in the Swedish Elite League before coming across the pond. I mention this for two reasons. One, because Bjorkloven could be the most Swedish sounding name even. And two, because I in fact love Bjork.

It would be four seasons before Ulf would put up numbers topping his rookie season, and he would do it with the Minnesota North Stars, the season after this card was printed.

This card is was printed after the season that saw Dahlen traded from the Rangers (for Mike Gartner) to the North Stars. He had tallied 18 goals with the Rangers in 66 games, but would only add 2 more with Minnesota in the remaining 13 games. The year the card came out saw Dahlen increase his goal total by one but decline in points by three over the previous season. It would be the first time in his career that he failed to put up 40 points, and the only time during his five plus years with the Stars organization that he didn’t achieve the 40 point plateau with the exception of his final year in the NHL when he returned to Dallas and put up 37 points in 63 games.

After his time with the relocated Dallas Stars franchise Ulf would join the brand spankin’ new San Jose Sharks in a late season trade in the 93-94 season. While his production continued, his health declined. Due to his inability to play a full season, Dahlen didn’t see another 40 point season until 2000-01 in Washington, and that was after a couple of years back in the Swedish Elite League.

It was at the end of the 2002-03 season that Dahlen left the NHL, officially making it an Ulf free zone.

As for the card itself, it marks Topps and O-Pee-Chee’s first attempt to compete with the likes of Score, Upper Deck, and Pro Set. While they didn’t hit a Pro Set low, it’s safe to say that Upper Deck and Score were initially the most popular sets of the season, ultimately forcing O-Pee-Chee to release O-Pee-Chee Premiere which would become the first high end set for hockey.

Presently Ulf is coaching HV71 in the Swedish Elite League, after holding the same job with Frolunda, the team that produced the NHL’s first Ulf, Ulf Sterner, who was the first European trained player to play in the NHL when he joined the Rangers for the 64-65 season.

Lately even the European leagues have been lacking in Ulfs. After 2007 no Ulf has laced up their skates to play professional ice hockey.

Dahlen was the end of the line of the Ulf era and for that he will forever be an important part of hockey history.