The return of Peter Forsberg
to the ice instantly revved up the crowd.
Just like old times, even if he was wearing a suit instead of a sweater and delivering a speech, not jarring checks.
Forsberg had his No. 21 jersey retired by the Colorado Avalanche
before the season opener against the Detroit Red Wings
The team also raised a banner with his name and number to the Pepsi Center rafters Saturday night, where it will hang alongside those of Joe Sakic
(19), Patrick Roy
(33) and Ray Bourque
"Unbelievable," the usually stoic Forsberg said. "I will forever remember this."
Forsberg made his way into the arena by walking through the stands, high-fiving kids as he made his way onto the ice. Once there, he stepped onto the burgundy carpet that had been placed along the surface and did a lap around the rink.
Along the way he shook hands with the current crop of Avalanche assembled on the bench and then hugged Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg
, a fellow Swedish player who ducked out of the locker room to take in the ceremony.
The capacity crowd gave Forsberg a thunderous ovation during his entire journey around the ice.
That's simply how beloved he remains in the Mile High City, an infatuation he's never quite understood.
"You've always been so nice to me," he said in his speech. "I don't really know why, but thank you so much."
All he had to do was gaze at the scoreboard to understand their passion. A video tribute showed an array of his hard hits and artistry with the puck on his stick.
In his prime, Forsberg was one of the best two-way players in the NHL. He helped Colorado to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 along with winning the league MVP award in 2003.
"He obviously had a very high level of skill, but I think it's the physical part of the game that he brought to the ice that made him different than your typical skill players," former teammate Claude Lemieux
said. "He was great and he also was tough and physical and a pain to play against."
The only thing that held Forsberg back was a chronically injured foot, one that has hampered him since 2003 and robbed him of chunks of his career. He attempted a comeback with the Avalanche last season, only to pull the plug after a two-game audition because of a nagging foot injury that's undergone numerous surgeries in an effort to fix.
"(His physical style) definitely took a toll on his career," Lemieux said. "He might have played more games if he didn't play that way, but that's how he wanted to play. You can't take that fire out of a player."
Lemieux's wife blamed the former enforcer for instilling the physical concept in Forsberg.
"She thought that was rubbing off in a negative way on him," Lemieux chuckled. "I said, 'No, I've seen this kid play before. He likes it this way.' And I'd say to him, 'You don't have to be that physical. Let me do that stuff.' He said, 'No, I have to be involved in the game."'
Forsberg spent most of his career with Colorado before heading to Philadelphia following the NHL lockout in 2004-05. He donned a Flyers jersey for 1 1/2 seasons before being dealt to Nashville.
He made sure to thank those organizations as well in his farewell speech, along with former teammates such as Joe Sakic
, who's now helping out in the Avalanche's front office.
Sakic even stepped out onto the ice to give Forsberg a hug and present him with a commemorative painting.
And with that, Forsberg's career on the ice was all but closed.
"I have to start a new life," said Forsberg, whose parents, brother and fiancee all were in attendance. "I can't sit around and not do anything."
That's why he's going back to school and studying economics, which will help him run his business ventures. He's also helping out his hometown Swedish club, Modo, as an assistant general manager.
"I really enjoy my life," Forsberg said. "It's been tough the last couple of years (with the foot injury), but right now it's great. I can't say anything negative about my life."