DENVER – Colorado Avalanche players knew something was amiss when they arrived at the Pepsi Center Monday morning to prepare for Monday night's game against the Calgary Flames.
Peter Forsberg's name wasn’t listed on the lineup and he wasn’t in the locker room getting ready for the morning skate.
"We thought it was kind of strange," Matt Duchene said.
Shortly after, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco relayed the news that Forsberg had decided to give up his comeback attempt and retire after playing two games, Friday in Columbus and Saturday in Nashville.
"I was very surprised," Duchene said. "I thought he looked great out there. I think it's sad because that's the end of his career. All those attempts the last few years trying to get back for one last run … I think this is it. It's sad that a great career like that is over, but at the same time, what a career it was. He did a lot for a lot of people, including myself. He was a guy that I really looked up to growing up."
Duchene, who centered a line with Forsberg at left wing and Milan Hejduk on the right side in both games, said he felt honored to have skated alongside one of his idols, even if it was short-lived.
"I played with probably my favorite player," Duchene said of Forsberg. "It was amazing. That's something that will last for the rest of my career, having met and played with one of my heroes. It was a tremendous privilege to get to play with him and to be around him. It was just amazing to play with him.
"Nobody should be disappointed in him or upset. He gave it a good try."
Sacco was equally surprised by Forsberg's decision.
"I thought the two games went well for him," he said. "The second night probably didn't go as well as the first game, but back-to-back games, that's a tough situation for him. He played hard every time he stepped on the ice. Every shift he gave it his all. The second game, he definitely ran out of gas. Towards the end you could see that the tank was running a little bit low, but that's normal. There were no real indications of anything for me.
"Not only did he owe it to himself to find out if he could play, but I thought it was a situation where how could we say no to that? There's really nothing to lose for us. It was an opportunity to get one of the most well-known players in this organization, a future Hall of Famer, to give him a chance to try and get back to his game. For me, it was a no-brainer, so I don't have any regrets and I don't think Peter has any regrets."
Forsberg, 37, averaged 17:35 in ice time in the two games, his first NHL action since the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. He had three shots on goal, four penalty minutes and was a minus-4.
In announcing his retirement, Forsberg said his troublesome right foot still gave him problems and wouldn’t allow him to continue his comeback.
Avalanche captain Adam Foote, now the lone remaining member of the team's 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cup championship teams, said he was "caught off-guard" by Forsberg's decision.
"I thought he played really good in the back-to-back (games)," said Foote, 39. "I haven't talked to him, so I guess he felt like he couldn't physically do it. He wanted to come back pretty hard. I do feel bad for him. He gave it a shot. It didn't work.
"I thought he looked great. I thought he had the highest compete level on the ice. You play a back-to-back, 35 and up, you're going to feel it. You're going to feel a little tired and physically hurt. I know it was more so because of his foot. If it didn't work, it didn't work."
Foote said Forsberg never hinted at retiring during the team's charter flight from Nashville to Denver after Saturday’s game.
"We talked on the plane a lot on the way home after the back-to- back," Foote said. "We had a long chat. That's why I'm surprised. He didn't give me any inkling that there was a problem. I woke up (Monday) morning and heard the news. I hope he's going to be OK. As a group in here, we have to deal with this and move on.
"Obviously he thinks after the two games he's not going to be able to help us moving forward. As far as me selfishly, I want to say, 'Yeah, you can help us. I saw the way you played.' If his foot is that bad and hurting him, that's a problem I can't fix or he probably can't fix. That's got to be frustrating for him. I wish him all the best with that. I'm glad he gave it a shot. I thought he played great."
So did Hejduk, who was a member of the Avalanche’s Cup-winning team in 2001, his third season in the NHL.
"I didn't see this coming," he said. "I thought he looked pretty good. Obviously, for not playing for a long time and jumping into back-to-back nights on the road, it's not an easy thing to do. I thought he did fine. I thought things would get better.
"Peter's going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. That's the legacy he will go down in the books. He had tons of injuries, too, probably because of the style of hockey he played -- a really physical game. It took some toll on his body."
Sacco said the Avalanche has to remain focused on trying to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race. The Avalanche sit 14th in the standings and took a seven-game losing streak into Monday's game.
"We don't want to have any distractions right now moving forward and certainly Peter was anything but that," Sacco said. "He went about his business in a very professional manner while he was here. I thought he blended in well with the players, but he definitely kept to himself a little bit while trying to work himself back into our lineup. I don't think it should have any implications as far as what we’re doing here. I have to focus on the players that we have here, not the players that are not available to us. It's the same in the locker room."