Throughout the years, Peter Forsberg has collected labels like some people collect stamps.
Ironically, philatelists can actually collect a Forsberg stamp from his native Sweden, but we'll get to that later.
For a time, Forsberg was known as "Magic Boy" thanks to a biography that was published in Sweden a few years back. The reserved Forsberg wasn't happy with that.
For a time he was known as the best player not playing in the NHL. Then, the label was top NHL rookie.
That's obviously become a tad dated, because these days Forsberg is making a pretty strong case that he should be known as the best hockey player in the world.
"He's a magician," Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix said. "He does things I don't think we've seen done before. He could win the scoring championship and at the same time win the Selke award.
Bringing together a rare combination of size, strength, uncanny skills, great competitive drive and character, Forsberg's contributions to the Colorado Avalanche are impossible to overlook, despite the fact he is reluctant to do anything that might be construed as self-promotion.
Forsberg is an incredibly hard-nosed player as evidenced by his successful battles to overcome serious injuries. He is a relentless worker who will lug the puck to the point where the opposition wilts in exhaustion at his efforts. His shot is hard and uncannily accurate. His passing touch is deft and Wayne Gretzky-like in its effectiveness. Forsberg makes the players around him better, a supreme compliment in hockey circles, and his own individual talents place him in the rarified air of the game's elite.
In short, here is another label for Forsberg: He is the total package. If there were any doubts, the two-time Stanley Cup champion has erased them this season.
After a sluggish start, the Avalanche found themselves in the unaccustomed position of being in the pack rather than Western Conference frontrunners. Colorado entered the season with eight-straight division titles, but even at the midway point Forsberg used the term "hopeless" to describe his team's chances at overtaking the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division. It didn't figure to get any easier when Joe Sakic was lost to a broken foot.
But that's when Forsberg went to work, meshing perfectly with wingers Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay. To say the trio got hot is an understatement. With Sakic out, the Avs went 12-1-1-1 and appeared virtually unstoppable along the way.
"We lost Joe and everybody knew we had to pick it up," Forsberg said. "I think everybody has been doing that. We have been playing good hockey. We have been playing good defensive hockey. That's, I think, how you win consistently nowadays. You play good defense. I think everybody knew that we had a rough start and we thought we were better than that, and when he went down, everybody just got together and started playing much better than we did before."
Forsberg was named the NHL Player of the Month for February after scoring four goals, adding 19 assists and going plus-13 in 13 games. Ironically, his chief competition came from his linemates. Hejduk had 12 goals and six assists in February and Tanguay netted seven goals, 13 assists over the same span.
"Peter has taken charge," Avalanche coach Tony Granato told Rick Sadowski of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "Great players and great leaders, when your team is struggling, they can dig down and find a way to reach another level. When Joe went down, Peter took it upon himself to make sure he did everything he could to help our team win. A lot of guys have stepped up, but when a guy of that caliber does it, everyone around him gets better."
Forsberg originally was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers sixth overall at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Russ Farwell was the Flyers' GM at the time and he took a lot of heat for selecting a player who wasn't coming to North America immediately. But Farwell's eye for talent has been vindicated because once Forsberg arrived in the NHL in 1994-95, he very quickly shed the label of "best player not in the NHL."
Forsberg has been a star for the Quebec/Colorado franchise since 1994-95, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the top rookie that year after scoring 15 goals and 35 assists in 47 games.
"Even before the world juniors, we were being told by Swedish hockey people that this was the best player ever to come out of Sweden," former Quebec
Nordiques GM Pierre Page said of Forsberg.
Today, Forsberg is among the brightest lights in the NHL's galaxy of stars, but his path to NHL stardom initially saw him as a face in the crowd. Forsberg was part of the huge package of players, draft picks and cash that went from Philadelphia to Quebec on June 30, 1992, when the Flyers acquired Eric Lindros. In that mammoth deal, established NHL players like Mike Ricci, Steve Duchesne and Ron Hextall were involved, but the player the Nordiques coveted was Forsberg. He has been a star for the franchise ever since, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the top rookie in 1994-95 after scoring 15 goals and 35 assists in 47 games.
Forsberg won the Calder with a remarkable stretch run in which he scored 26 points in his final 14 games to fully grab the attention of the voters from the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
"I had a bad start," he recalled. "I had it real tough there for like eight games in a row with no points, and I kept thinking that I have to work a little bit harder to get some points and get going. I was lucky that I played on a great team, and it made it easier for me to get into the game."
When the franchise moved to Colorado for the 1995-96 season, success followed Forsberg and he has been a member of both Stanley Cup teams produced by the Avalanche, become a fixture at NHL All-Star Games and an international star for Sweden in Olympic and World Cup competition.
"He's probably the most complete player in the game," Sakic says. "Both ends of the ice. He's so strong defensively and he's so unselfish."
During the 1994 Winter Olympics, Forsberg scored the winning goal against Canada in a shootout that gave Sweden the gold medal. After his Olympic heroics, Forsberg became the first hockey player in Sweden to appear on a postage stamp. He was 22 at the time.
During the 1994 Winter Olympics, Forsberg scored the winning goal against Canada in a shootout that gave Sweden the gold medal.
Not bad for a kid who grew up without a whole lot of knowledge about the NHL.
"I didn't really think about NHL that much when I grew up," Forsberg said. "It was not shown as much on TV. I grew up in a town that had an elite division team [MoDo] in Sweden, so that was kind of my dream to come up and play for that team. The NHL was kind of out of my reach. I think kids nowadays want to be a part of the NHL. They want to play over here and become good.
"Nowadays for all the kids in Europe and everywhere, I think winning the Stanley Cup is the thing," Forsberg said. "I don't think people really dream about winning the scoring title. It's not for me. I mean, I'd rather win the Stanley Cup than the scoring [title]."
In recent years, Forsberg has proven his mettle. He missed the last two rounds of the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs after undergoing emergency surgery to have his spleen removed. He missed all of the 2001-02 regular season recovering from that procedure as well as additional surgeries on his ankles. That recovery period forced him to miss the 2002 Winter Olympics. But he returned to the Avalanche for the 2002 playoffs and was a revelation.
With precious little preparation time, Forsberg scored nine goals and added 18 assists in 20 games as Colorado was eliminated in seven games by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals. Even in defeat, it was a remarkable performance.
"It wasn't too easy jumping right into the playoffs," Forsberg said. "I mean, every game is so important. I had a lot of pressure on me too because I missed [the regular season]. There were a lot of things going on in that year. I just worked out the whole year and I was really looking forward to coming back and playing well."
Today, Forsberg and the Avalanche are looking to extend their season and return to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Western Conference is strewn with top-caliber competition, but you would be hard pressed to find a foe that wants to see Forsberg and the Avalanche in the first round. That's how scary Colorado has become.
Forsberg and the Avalanche are looking to extend their season and return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Forsberg will let others handle the hype for the upcoming playoffs. He will concentrate on helping the Avalanche put forth a consistent effort each night.
"Good hockey teams do that," he said. "You're not going to play your best hockey every night but you have to make sure that you give yourself a chance to win."
Every time Granato writes Forsberg's name into the lineup he increases those chances drastically.