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Forsberg hopes oft-injured foot allows for a return

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- His heart still remains in the game, but will Peter Forsberg's oft-injured foot hold up for him to resume his NHL career?

He's 37 years old and hasn't played in an NHL game since the first round of the 2008 playoffs with the Colorado Avalanche, but Forsberg is getting what likely will be one final chance to determine if he's able to perform at a satisfactory level with his former team.

It seemed like old times Saturday morning at the Pepsi Center, where Forsberg skated, stickhandled and shot pucks into an empty net for about 45 minutes with Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly, who is sidelined with a shoulder injury, and assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk.

"I'm just going to skate and see where I'm at," Forsberg said during a well-attended news conference after the workout. "I'm looking forward to seeing if I can play in this League anymore, if I'm good enough and if everything holds up.

"I'm not getting younger, so I don't think there will be too many more chances to do this again. I think this might be the last time."

No promises have been made by either side, but Forsberg, a former Hart Trophy winner and NHL scoring champion, is hopeful of performing well enough in practices this week to earn a contract to play with the Avalanche for the remainder of the season.

"We haven't talked contract or anything like that," he said.

Forsberg, whose otherwise brilliant career has been marred by injuries, felt well enough in recent days while skating in his native Sweden with a junior team to see if he could do the same with NHL-caliber players.

He asked his agent, Don Baizley, on Tuesday to contact the Avalanche, and they gave him the OK to fly to Denver and practice with the team. Forsberg arrived Friday night in Denver and said he was "a little tired" skating Saturday because of jet lag.

"And they threw me out there with a 20-year-old," he said of O'Reilly, who turns 20 on Feb. 7. "Other than that I felt OK. We'll see how it goes. I don't know how long it's going to take to really get into game shape, but it's going to be exciting to skate with the team."

Agreeing to Forsberg's wishes was an easy decision, Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman said.

"Certainly you look at the history we've had with this particular player," Sherman said. "Anytime you have an opportunity that an elite player in this game wants to come and practice, to see where he's at physically, given the history he's had with this franchise, it makes all the sense in the world to bring him in."

Bringing Forsberg back, if he can still play, also would have great appeal from a marketing standpoint, as he remains a beloved figure in Denver.

"That part is for [the media] to decide," Sherman said.

"I think when you look at the connection that certainly Peter has not only with this franchise but with this city … he said he loves this city, loves this state. He's had positive memories from being here. In terms of the hockey, for us it's a situation he wants to see where he's at physically. We can provide that opportunity for him."

Forsberg would prefer to play with the Avalanche "because of the history and everything," he said. "This is where I spent most of my time."

He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1994-95 with the Quebec Nordiques, who moved to Denver before the following season. He spent nine seasons with the Avalanche and helped the team win Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001.

"I'm just going to skate and see where I'm at. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can play in this league anymore, if I'm good enough and if everything holds up." -- Peter Forsberg

Forsberg signed with Philadelphia before the start of the 2005-06 season and spent parts of two campaigns with the Flyers. He was traded to Nashville late in the 2006-07 season, sat out most of 2007-08 and signed in February 2008 with the Avalanche, with whom he played nine regular-season games and seven playoff games.

Forsberg's 755 points (217 goals, 538 assists) in 589 games place him fourth in Quebec/Colorado franchise history. Overall, he has 249 goals and 636 assists in 706 NHL games.

The question for Forsberg and the Avalanche is can he fare well enough in practices to earn a contract?

"The foot is definitely better, but I don't know how good it is," Forsberg said. "I'm not young anymore. I want to see where I'm at. I'm really fortunate to come over here and to get to try and practice with this team and see where I'm at and see if I can keep on playing.

"There's not really a time frame. I want to be sure this time that I am good enough if I'm going to decide to play, but I don't know how long it's going to take."

Forsberg said he was "nervous" during Saturday's workout, which attracted considerably more media members than most Avalanche practices and games.

"[There were] a lot of cameras and I didn't want to fall down," he said. "Of course I have such great memories of this city. Coming back [Friday] night, it was kind of short notice. I booked my flight Thursday afternoon and I flew in Friday in the morning. Coming here, I have to say I love the city and I love the people here, so it's great to come back. I hope I can play and do good for this team."

The Avalanche, who played Boston on Saturday afternoon, are home all next week, so there will be plenty of time for Forsberg to practice in front of coach Joe Sacco. The Avalanche have home games Monday against St. Louis and Phoenix on Wednesday, and off days until a road game Feb. 1 against the Blues.

"When Joe and I had our discussions, nothing is going to change in terms of Joe's plans for the upcoming week," Sherman said. "Joe and the coaching staff will work together to keep their schedule intact for the upcoming days. They'll work their practices as they see fit.

"The real purpose of this is to see where [Forsberg] is at physically. I think Peter is an elite athlete. In his heart and his brain, I don't believe he would take this opportunity or want this opportunity if he didn't believe in his heart that he could do it. That remains to be seen."

Forsberg played in 23 games with Modo in the Swedish Elite League last season and did well, collecting 11 goals, 19 assists and 66 penalty minutes.

"It's not like I've been dead," Forsberg said. "I had the most points per game even if [the foot] didn't feel good. I felt like, if I felt good what would it be then? I love playing hockey. People ask, you've got nothing else to do? I do have other things to do, but I love playing hockey and I feel there's a little unfinished business."

Forsberg acknowledged he has considered retiring "plenty of times," but the game kept pulling him back.

"People say you're crazy, call it quits, but I guess I love hockey and I love playing," he said. "I think I've gotten to the point that I don't know that I would be where I was, say, maybe 10 years ago, but definitely I'm hoping I'm going to be better than I was the last seven years when I couldn't  move. I was scared going down on a shootout that I was going to fall. I need to skate with a real team, and these guys are great skaters and young guys and I'm going to have my hands full.

"I would regret badly if I fought this injury for seven years and I didn't do everything in the end to see if it worked."

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