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Naslund enjoys New York, hopes to play with Foppa

by Chuck Gormley
They were born 10 days apart in the seaport town of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Markus Naslund, the younger of the two, grew up on the north side, Peter Forsberg to the south.

They first met at the age of 7 and later became inseparable, first as teammates, then as classmates, even as co-workers for their town's electric company, where Naslund's mother, Ulla, worked with Forsberg's father, Kent.

They both idolized Swedish hockey legend Hakan Loob and hoped someday to play together in the NHL.

Naslund, the sniper, made his mark on the NHL as a member of the Vancouver Canucks for 12 seasons. Forsberg, the playmaker, forged his reputation in nine dominant seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.

But aside from a few All-Star Games, they never wore the same NHL sweater.
Naslund, now a 35-year-old left wing for the New York Rangers, hasn't given up hope that the two will someday be reunited.

"We'll see," Naslund recently told "The main issue for him is getting healthy. Any player would love to have him on your team."

Forsberg, who has undergone at least three reconstructive surgeries on his right foot in the past two years, is trying to return to competitive hockey with MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik of the Swedish Elite League, the same team he and Naslund played for as teenagers in the early 1990s.

If his foot responds well, Forsberg has said he would like to return to the NHL next season. Naslund, who signed a two-year deal with the Rangers last summer, wouldn't mind seeing him in red, white and blue.

"Peter would definitely be here if his foot was healthy," Naslund said, referring to the NHL. "He's been through so many operations trying to make it right. Hopefully, this works out for him."

More than 50 games into his first season on Broadway, Naslund admits he still is trying to find his groove with the Rangers. From a personal standpoint, though, he is exactly where he wants to be.

He and his wife, Lotta, love their home in Greenwich, Conn., which is about a 15-minute drive to the Rangers’ practice rink in Greenburgh, N.Y., and about a 45-minute commute into Manhattan.

Their daughters, Rebecca, 10, and Isabella, 8, enjoy their school and are playing soccer. Their 6-year-old son, Alex, is playing his second year of organized hockey.

"It was a big step for us to move them from Vancouver, but it's worked out well," Naslund said. "They're doing well in school and we really like it here."

Naslund admits that after 12 years in Vancouver, he wasn't sure how he'd adapt to the bright lights and fast pace of New York. So far, he says, it's been great.

"It's been fun to try something new," he said. "It's definitely a first-class place to play."

On the ice, Naslund said he and the Rangers still are trying to find their way. After blasting out of the gates with a 10-2-1 record in October, a stretch in which Naslund scored 4 goals and 7 assists, the Rangers went 7-6-1 in November, 6-5-1 in December and 6-5-1 in January.

"It's been a little up and down lately," he said. "There have been stretches where we haven't been great and other stretches where we've played well."

Naslund leads the team with 16 goals, but is a minus-12 while playing with a variety of linemates. He started the season on a high-octane line with Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, and then was moved to a unit with right wing Nikolai Zherdev and center Brandon Dubinsky. Most recently he's been playing with Gomez and hard-hitting right wing Aaron Voros.

"I think there is a lot to how a line combination clicks and how they feel they can create offense, having that chemistry, and I think that has been lacking," Naslund of coach Tom Renney's line juggling. "We have to find that, and not just one line, but we need two or three lines scoring."

Naslund said he enjoys playing with Gomez, calling him a "great playmaker." And Gomez was equally complimentary of Naslund, who has 322 career goals and 708 career points.

"The main thing for me is when a guy knows how to get open," said Gomez, who is second on the Rangers with 26 assists. "He knows how to get open."

Renney didn't make a lot of friends in the Rangers' dressing room when he followed a three-game losing streak with a 30-minute skate, sans pucks. Renney believes how you play is far more important than who lines up beside you on a faceoff.

"If the game plan is something everyone understands and gets their head around, it shouldn't matter a whole lot who you're playing with," Renney said. "But you try to capitalize on what each guy can bring to the line."

Naslund said that with a strong collection of scorers, a mobile defense and an All-Star goaltender in countryman Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers will be as dangerous as any team in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs start in April.

"It's a good group here," he said. "Good enough to make something happen. We might not have the same talent as Detroit or San Jose, but in a playoff series I think we'll be tough to play against, especially with a building block like Henrik."

As for having pangs for Vancouver, Naslund said they've subsided.

"I'm very happy," he said. "I loved Vancouver, but I made the right decision and I enjoy playing here and living here."

Naslund said he intends to return to Sweden with his family after his children finish the school year in Connecticut. And who knows? With a little luck, he may bring back an old friend for one memorable season.

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