“The Viking Cup” book is coming in fall 2021

LeRoy Johnson, Viking Cup tournament coordinator for 20 years and book author, will take readers through anecdotes of each participating nation and what it took to bring hundreds of future National Hockey League players to small-town Alberta

Mike Gould - 18 June 2021

Black and white program for the 1988 Viking Cup.

The prestigious Viking Cup international hockey tournament operated out of Camrose, with the Augustana Vikings as its host, between 1980 and 2006. 

LeRoy Johnson served as tournament coordinator for 20 years, becoming closer than anybody else to the action and participants from around the globe.

His new book, The Viking Cup, is coming out this fall and will take readers through anecdotes of each participating nation and what it took to bring hundreds of future National Hockey League players to small-town Alberta. But it also focuses on the many organizers and billets who took the players into their homes and, along the way, forged lifelong friendships with future NHL stars.

Johnson said the book represented a massive collaboration effort featuring insights gleaned from 300-400 interviews. The project took around five years to complete.

“It started, really, with just some dialogue with those who were involved,” said Johnson. “I was involved with a lot of people from other countries, as the coordinator, so I’ve kept in contact with a lot of them.

“There were many times when I thought, ‘Look, I’m not going to continue with this,’” Johnson added. “It was people that kept me going. They said, ‘Well, look, this is important and you’re the guy to do it.’ Then I talked to people and they would inspire me.”

The Viking Cup regularly featured national U-18 and other teams from Sweden, Finland, the United States, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Russia, with other European nations also making appearances.

Each of these countries brought with them different and unique styles of play, with the Cup serving as a venue for these different systems to be pitted against each other to their mutual benefit.

Junior and collegiate teams from the United States and Canada also participated in the Viking Cup. Each tournament served as an opportunity for scouts from the professional ranks, including the NHL, to lay eyes on some of the top young hockey talent from around the world. Over 400 tournament alumni had their names called during NHL drafts.

Eventual NHL stars Dominik Hasek, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny, Olli Jokinen, Andrei Markov, Sergei Zubov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Tomas Vokoun, James Patrick, Zigmund Palffy, Patrik Elias, Mikko Koivu, Sergei Gonchar, Henrik Lundqvist and Henrik Zetterberg rank among the Cup’s most decorated alumni.

The Viking Cup built upon Camrose’s existing decorated history of hosting hockey trailblazers. The 1974–75 Camrose Lutheran College Vikings shocked the hockey world when they emerged from a tiny rural school to win the first-ever Canadian collegiate ice hockey championship.

That team, with Johnson at the helm as general manager, is now enshrined in the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame (class of 2009). Johnson was inducted individually into the ACAC Hall of Fame and the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.

Johnson commented the Viking Cup tournament managed to blend “bigness and smallness” to create a relatively unique hockey experience.

“The ‘bigness’ [refers] to international hockey and the involvement of the NHL. Every team had their scouts here,” said Johnson. “The ‘littleness’ of it came from the little town of Camrose.

“It’s kind of a story about this little town on the prairies opening its doors and welcoming the world, and the world comes knocking.”

Mike Gould is the son of Tom Gould, a member of the 1974-75 Canadian champion Vikings. He is a contributing writer to FlamesNation and an occasional guest on Sportsnet 960 The Fan.