Tumba passes away at 80

Sweden mourns its greatest hockey hero

01.10.2011
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Sven Tumba (left) in a game with Djurgården Stockholm in 1960 wearing his self-designed helmet. Photo: Reportagebild / Pressens Bild / Scanpix / Nationalencyklopedin

STOCKHOLM – If there was something Sven Tumba couldn’t do, he hid it well. He won eight Swedish championships with Djurgården, added three World Championship golds and four other medals with Team Sweden, and a bronze and a silver from the 1952 and 1964 Olympics, respectively.

He still holds the record for most goals with Team Sweden, 186 in 245 games between 1950 and 1966. Just the long career in the national team was sensational in those days. No wonder that in 1999, he was voted the best player in the history of Swedish hockey.

He also had his own TV show, a radio show, was a Swedish champion in water skiing, he was a philanthropist, a master golfer, and a golf course designer since his hockey career, and the founder of Scandinavian Masters tournament. He also won silver in football, with Djurgården, and was a national team player even in that sport.

According to a well-known, and oft-told story, Tumba was taunted by some Malmö players in a football game in 1953 when Sven had already won a world championship in hockey. The Malmö players tried to get the hockey off balance. When Tumba scored his first goal, he jogged past a famous Malmö defender, and said, “Hey you, this was kind of fun. I may have to start playing more.”

He scored a hat trick in the match.

But it was hockey that offered Sven, a tall kid from the suburb of Tumba, the path to the top of the world, and into the TV and radio studios.

On Saturday, 1st October 2011, Tumba passed away in Stockholm.

Born Sven Johansson, the lanky kid got used to moving around Stockholm, and getting along with new people. He was ten when the family moved to Tumba, and when they moved again, to the north side of town, he became known as the “kid from Tumba”. The nickname took hold, and with the growing legend and the championships, he became “Tumba”. In 1965, he changed his last name officially to match the reality.

A junior coach Sven knew invited him to Djurgården Stockholm where he played with the junior team, and a B team, Tumba told Djurgården’s website last year.

“I wasn’t ready for play with the “A” team, but I was unique in the way I skated so I could get to the puck faster than most of the players on the team. I practically ran on the ice, and somebody important seemed to like that because when I was 19, I made my Tre Kronor debut without having ever played in the men’s team,” he said.

And the rest was history.

In the late 1950s, Tumba also got an offer to try out with the Boston Bruins.

“I played in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers, and I was a little nervous. But we played a 1-1 tie, and I scored our goal. After my second game, I was sent to the Quebec Aces, and after that, I did get a contract offer for a fantastic 50,000 dollars. But I wasn’t ready for that style of hockey, so I returned home,” Tumba said.

But he wasn’t afraid, or he wouldn’t have switched the Bruins players false teeth’s places in the dressing room.

Tumba returned to Djurgården, and the club won six consecutive Swedish titles between 1958 and 1963.

In 1963, the World Championship was played in Sweden, in Stockholm, in Tumba’s home arena, Johanneshovet. By then, the helmet he had designed was a success, as well.

Canadian Mordercai Richler wrote about the tournament for Maclean’s:

“The lowest paid of all the amateurs were the Americans who were given 20 dollars spending money for the entire European tour; and the best off, individually, was undoubtedly the Swedish star, Tumba Johansson. Tumba, a $10-a-game amateur, had turned down a Boston Bruins offer but not, I feel, because he was intent on keeping his [amateur] status pure,” he wrote.

“A national hero, Tumba earns a reputed 40,000 dollars a year through a hockey equipment manufacturer. First night on the ice not many Swedish players wore helmets. “Don’t worry,” a local reporter said, “they’ll be wearing their helmets for Tumba on Wednesday. Wednesday they’re on TV.”

Before retiring from hockey in 1968, he had also laid the foundation for TV-Pucken, a youth tournament for the select teams from each Swedish hockey district.

He was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997.

RISTO PAKARINEN

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