Hammarstrom grew up playing a lot of sports, but he excelled at two: tennis and especially hockey. By 15 he was named to the Swedish national junior team and was a regular on the senior national team at 19 years old.
Despite his success, he never gave much thought to a career in the National Hockey League. European players were all but non-existent in the early 1970s. But that changed in large part to Hammarstrom and his good friend, Borje Salming.
On May 12th, 1973 the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the two Swedes. The 21 year old Salming would go on to become a Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the best defenseman in the NHL for the next 15 seasons.
Hammarstrom, who was 25 when first arrived, was not so lucky. He averaged more than 20 goals a game in four seasons with the Leafs, but he did not adapt well to the harder hitting style of play in North America. And miscreant Leafs owner Harold Ballard made sure Hammarstrom was labelled as soft for all of eternity, famously stating, “Hammarstrom could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them."
The charge was unfair. Canadian players like Jean Ratelle or the Leafs own legendary Dave Keon played the game cleanly and without malice, but Hammarstrom was vilified largely because he was European.
A superb skater and stickhandler, Hammarstrom was strong in his convictions about how the game should be played.
"My game is the one of skills we were taught in Sweden. We also were taught self discipline. I hate to be roughed up and am tempted to drop my gloves and fight at times, but I do not believe that is the way the game should be played."
Hammarstrom stayed with the Leafs for 4 seasons before moving on to St. Louis for 2 more NHL season. He returned to Sweden to play for Byrnas, and later retiring in beautiful Gavle on the Baltic Sea, spending time on his boat and playing badminton. Yes, badminton.
"It takes more skill than most people realize and it's a shame it isn't played by more people."
But he also spent a lot of time watching hockey games all across Europe. From 1990 through 2008 Hammarstrom served as the chief European scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. His best find - Peter Forsberg.