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"I never liked playing against him, either," says Pittsburgh forward Kevin Stevens. "He hits you head-on, and every time you turn around, he's right in your face. You love him when he's on your team, and you hate him when he's not. He can make you cringe, even when he's playing with you. He just plays with such reckless abandon."
No kidding. Early in his career, in a game against the Quebec Nordiques, the Stastny brothers, Peter, Marian and Anton, were on a breakaway toward an open net with Samuelsson in hot pursuit. Samuelsson threw his stick and both gloves in a futile attempt to deflect the puck before Anton finally scored. "If the rink was any longer," joked Emile (the Cat) Francis, Hartford's general manager at the time, "Ulfie would have been down to his jock."
A few years later, furious after he was ejected from a game in Toronto, Samuelsson picked up a mop and bashed a hole in the grill of a Zamboni. The Maple Leafs sent him a repair bill for $300. He paid it.
"Let's put it this way: He has a zest for life," says center Ron Francis, who, along with defenseman Grant Jennings, was traded with Samuelsson from Hartford to Pittsburgh for center John Cullen, defenseman Zarley Zalapski and right wing Jeff Parker in what turned out to be a steal for the Penguins. "I've been playing with him nine-plus years, and I still shake my head at the things he does. He's as crazy as ever."
And he's at the peak of his irritating game. At week's end the Penguins had scored 30 more goals when Samuelsson was on the ice than they had allowed. "Number one, I don't like him," says Oiler coach Ted Green. "Number two, I'd love to have him on my club."
Believe it or not, when he's off duty Samuelsson acts like an intelligent, caring human being. He lives in Roslyn Farms, Pa., halfway between the Civic Arena and the airport, with his Swedish wife, Jeanette, and their 19-month-old son, Philip. You might expect him to carry brass knuckles and blackjacks in the backseat of his cream-colored Lexus. Instead, like any proud family man, he totes a baby seat.
In last year's Stanley Cup finals, in which Samuelsson frustrated Chicago Blackhawk star Jeremy Roenick with a classic clutch-and-grab performance, Samuelsson dedicated his play to his father, Bo, who had died of kidney failure earlier that season. Again stepping out of his on-ice character, Samuelsson now serves on the board of directors of his local kidney foundation. Of course, that could mean he's learning how to eviscerate unsuspecting opponents without the benefit of anesthesia. You never know.