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Forsberg's compete level drove Hall of Fame career

by Adam Kimelman

Talk to anyone that was around Peter Forsberg during his playing days and one word comes up repeatedly.


"He's so competitive and he hates losing more than anyone I know," said former NHL star Markus Naslund, who grew up in Sweden playing with and against Forsberg. "He would do anything he could to be the difference."

"He was a true competitor," former teammate Rob Blake said. "Always beat up physically, but when the game started he was ready."

"I think just how competitive he was," said Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist, one of many young Swedes who grew up idolizing Forsberg. "Something that I took from him was I could see three guys be on him, and he would still hang on to the puck."


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Forsberg's competitiveness was one element of a stellar career that has earned him enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He'll join Blake, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Pat Burns and Bill McCreary when the 2014 induction ceremony is held Nov. 17 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

In 708 NHL games with the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators, Forsberg had 885 points. His 1.25 point-per-game average is eighth in NHL history.

He won the Stanley Cup twice with the Avalanche, in 1996 and 2001. He won the Calder Trophy in 1995 as the League's top rookie, and he was the first Swedish player to win the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player.

"What made playing against Pete difficult was the different elements he possessed," Blake said. "He could beat you with skill or he could beat you with power. He loved the challenge of going head to head physically with the biggest guys in the League."

That desire to play physical dates to Forsberg's formative years in Sweden, where he developed the ability to go past a defender and the strength to go through him.

"He was a unique guy at that time because he played so hard," said Russ Farwell, the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers in the early 1990s. "His dad would almost apologize every time we saw him because of the penalties he took. We didn't mind a bit. But over there he kind of stuck out because of how he played.

"We just felt he may have been born in Sweden, but he's more Saskatchewan than Saskatchewan guys. They can hardly handle him in his hockey league because he plays so hard and so tough. We felt he was the ideal guy."

The Flyers selected Forsberg with the sixth pick of the 1991 NHL Draft and tried to bring him to the NHL for the 1992-93 season. Forsberg felt he needed more time to get bigger and stronger.

Philadelphia didn't feel it could wait, and added him to the mix heading to Quebec to complete the trade that brought Eric Lindros to Philadelphia.

"If we could have gotten Forsberg to come I think we would have just sat tight because we would have had Forsberg, [Rod] Brind'Amour and [Mike] Ricci at center," Farwell said. "But we couldn't get him to come and we weren't patient enough to wait."

Forsberg continued to develop into a superstar at home. At the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championship he set single-tournament records of 24 assists and 31 points in seven games, including three goals and seven assists in a 20-1 win against Japan.

Peter Forsberg's famous shootout goal

Forsberg's iconic shootout goal (Click to enlarge)

And at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics his memorable shootout goal against Canada helped Sweden win the gold medal. The goal was commemorated in Sweden on postage stamp.

In a 2000 biography called "Magic Boy," Forsberg said playing for Sweden at the 1994 Olympics was the main reason he delayed his NHL arrival.

"There was not enough money in the world to lure me away from taking a shot at an Olympic gold with [Sweden]," he said in the book.

As an NHL rookie in 1994-95 he had 50 points in 47 games, and one season later, with the Nordiques having moved to Colorado, Forsberg had 30 goals and a career-best 116 points. He had 10 goals and 11 assists in 22 playoff games as the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.

Forsberg was 22 at the time, making him one of the youngest members of the Triple Gold club; he had won a World Championship gold at 18 and was 20 when he scored the postage-stamp goal at the 1994 Olympics.

"Everything happened so fast," Forsberg said. "Winning those three titles was fantastic. … I didn't think about it then. I just wanted to win everything."

He won more by blending all-world skill with strength that belied his 6-foot, 206-pound frame.

"He was so deceivingly strong and always aware of where the defensive player was," said NHL on NBC analyst Keith Jones, who was a teammate for three seasons in Colorado. "That gave him the ability to knock you down if you tried to hit him."

That physical style also shortened his career. He played 82 games once, and persistent injuries to his feet and ankles led to the end of his career.

His worst injury, however, was a ruptured spleen sustained during Game 7 of the Avalanche's 2001 second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. Hours after the game, he was taken for emergency surgery to remove the spleen and repair internal bleeding.

Doctors expected Forsberg to be out until training camp started, if not longer. But one month later, the morning of Game 7 of the Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils, Bob Hartley, then the Avalanche coach, said Forsberg walked into his office and said he was ready to play.

"Game 7 of the [Final], Peter shows up to my desk in my office and says I want to play tonight," Hartley said. "He was supposed to be totally shut down for four or five months. He was begging to the point that I told him no. I said the doctors told us that it's risky for your life and that you'll probably be a question mark at training camp. I said the doctors are not sure if training camp [he would be healthy] and you're talking about Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. I said it's nonsense. … As much as we need you, it's no.


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"He told me, I want to talk to Pierre Lacroix, our general manager. Pierre came down and he tried again with me and Pierre together and it was another no. And he was really frustrated. He felt that because the day before he had went to skate on his own, basically not asking permission from the medical staff, going on the ice by himself, just to get a feel. 'I feel great, I know I can play. I want to play.' That explains Peter Forsberg, the leader in him, the warrior in him."

Forsberg sat out the 2001-02 regular season to recover from the spleen surgery as well as operations on both ankles and a foot. He returned for the 2002 playoffs and led the League with 27 points in 20 games, and that elite level carried into the 2002-03 season. He won the League scoring race with 106 points -- two more than his old friend Naslund -- and was named MVP.

However that was Forsberg's last great season as persistent foot and ankle problems slowed him.

"Just as I was at my best in 2003, I played with Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay, and I think we were plus-52 or something," Forsberg said. "… After that I didn't have any really good seasons due to the foot."

Hartley said it was amazing to see what Forsberg was able to accomplish after that season knowing how bad his feet and ankles were hurting.

"I'd see him barefoot on the bench," Hartley said. "He had to remove his skates. … I'd see him after games, his ankle bones were so red. He had a hard time to walk."

Forsberg signed with the Flyers in the summer of 2005 but missed training camp after surgery to remove an infected bursa sac in his ankle. He helped Sweden win the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics but also missed 22 NHL games because of groin injuries. He still managed 75 points in 60 games, and in the first round of the 2006 playoffs he put on a vintage performance against the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers lost the first two games, but Forsberg was dominant in Games 3 and 4. He had two goals and an assist in each game and scored the game-winning goal in both.

"He sets a higher standard for himself than anybody on our team," Ken Hitchcock, then the Flyers coach, said. "When he goes, we go."

The next season was a disaster for Philadelphia, in part because Forsberg's foot and ankle woes made him a day-to-day question mark, as well as his expiring contract. In February 2007 he was traded to the Predators.

The next few seasons saw him seek out more corrective remedies for his feet which allowed him to make short-term comebacks with Modo, his hometown team, and the Avalanche. His final comeback attempt, with Colorado in January 2011, lasted two games.

"In hindsight he probably felt that he pushed it a little too far," Naslund said. "The media might not know a lot of the stuff that he had to go through to try to get healthy again, especially with his foot in the end with surgeries and stuff. It's difficult when you don't get to leave the game on your own terms. And especially being as great a player as Peter was, he deserved that."

Since retiring, Forsberg has served as assistant general manager with Modo and also became a father to son Lennox in 2012 and daughter Lily in 2014.

While his children won't get the privilege of seeing their father's greatness in person, Forsberg's legend will live on from those that watched him.

"It's very difficult to find a comparable player to Forsberg because of the way he played," Jones said.


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