Ljusdal is a city of just over 6000 inhabitants. Located on the river Ljusnan, it lies deep in the forests of the province of Halsingland, the county of Gavleborg, in central Sweden. Up the hill from the train station and the center of town sits the bandy rink. The home of Swedish elite bandy club, Ljusdals BK. Clad in green and gold the Ljusdal team had been competing in Swedish bandy since 1943. In 1975 they win the Swedish championship. Ljusdal is also the home to the World Cup of Bandy, the world championship for club teams. Played over a long weekend every October since 1974. Sixteen teams compete, the best bandy teams from each of the four bandy nations. The games run round the clock, forty eight hours, from Friday afternoon through the Sunday championship match. Many thousands of bandy fans descend on this bandy Mecca each fall to watch the matches and party bandy style. The game with the highest attendance is not the championship. It is instead the 2am Sunday morning match between the host club Ljusdal and another Swedish club from the same province, Edsbyn, Broberg or Bollnas. A derby match with over 8000 in attendance.
Three days before the eighth World Cup, Tuesday October 20, 1981, the town of Ljusdal and Ljusdal BK are hosting a momentous night in bandy history. The very beginning of a new bandy era after fifty years of isolation in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the bandy power, the Soviet Union. The first international match ever played by the new bandy nation, the USA. An event which will ultimately lead to over twenty nations fielding national teams and ultimately, to the Olympics. Six thousand people fill the stands. They have no idea what to expect. Neither do the players for Ljusdals BK. US bandy is a mystery, an unknown entity. What is known is that the most experienced of the US players began their bandy careers only nine months previous. They have played at most six games against equally inexperienced players at Lewis Park in Edina. The games have been only fifty minutes long, not the ninety minutes played in Sweden and internationally. All of the US players are former hockey players but only three have played college hockey, Dave Arundel, Larry Thayer and myself. Thayer, who will be playing fullback, was a goalie in hockey. One of the US players, twenty one year old Duane Pederson, has joined the US team only weeks before. He has never skated on a bandy rink before this game. Joining the eleven US skaters on the ice and goalie Steve Swenson are two players from Sweden. Coach Gunnar Fast and Bjorn Nordqvist. Nordqvist is 39 years old and is an athletic legend in Sweden. He has played at the highest levels in three sports, bandy, ice hockey and soccer. In soccer he has competed in three World Cups for Sweden, 115 national team matches and was Swedish team captain for 92 of those matches. The US players have only a vague understanding that their new teammate is on a par with Babe Ruth, Gordie Howe, Jim Brown, all wrapped up in one man
The match begins and unbelievably it is the US who scores first. Bjorn Nordqvist has the ball deep in the Ljusdal corner to the right of the goalie. He chips the ball in the air out to the top of the penalty circle. It takes one bounce, where Duane Pederson, with his back to the goal, strikes it out of the air. He makes solid contact and the ball shoots on the ice past the Ljusdal goalie and into the left corner of the net. 1-0 USA. Duane, in the first half of his first bandy game ever, has scored the very first goal for the USA. The crowd explodes. But they did not come to see a miracle. They came to see Swedish domination. Ljusdal soon scores the equalizer but the US is not finished. Brian Selchow, on a breakaway, nets the second US score. 2-1 for the Americans. Ljusdal scores again but that is it for the first half. Steve Swenson has either stopped or been hit by a fusillade of shots. The forty five minute half ends with the score tied 2-2.
We head to the locker room. A number of the players, completely spent, are taking off their skates. Gunnar Fast enters. “What are you doing”? he asks. “We have another forty five minutes to play.” Gunnar then calls Dave Arundel over. “We are making history” he says. He has been told that newspapers all over Sweden, including the national ones, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, are all holding the presses on the next day’s editions. “A 2-2 tie at half”? Gunnar tells Dave. “This game will be on the front page of every newspaper in Sweden tomorrow.”
The second half begins and the chaos in the bandy universe corrects itself. Ljusdal asserts themselves, scoring seven goals against the ready to drop US team. They prevail 9-2. I have never been so physically exhausted in my life. But I have never been happier. It is a feeling shared by the entire team. We will take this night and this game with us for the rest of our lives. Decades later Duane Pederson is asked what it means to him to have scored the first ever USA international goal. “Other than the birth of my children it was the greatest moment of my life” Duane further confides “I still dream about Ljusdal”
The First USA National Team: