DENVER – Peter Forsberg’s nagging right foot halted his career once and for all.
In a teary farewell Monday, the usually even-tempered Forsberg paused several times to fight back emotions as he pulled the plug on his latest comeback attempt after playing just two games with the Colorado Avalanche.
The former NHL MVP has been plagued by a chronic foot ailment since 2003, robbing him of chunks of his career.
But Forsberg wanted one last go-round, just to see if he could still play on the NHL level. He began skating with the Avs on Jan. 22 simply to test out the foot.
A week ago, he signed a US$1 million prorated deal to play the rest of the season for the team he helped lead to two Stanley Cup titles.
After an initial visa delay, Forsberg suited up in two road games with Colorado last week, scoring no points in more than 35 minutes of ice time.
With the foot giving him fits again, the 37-year-old reached the decision Sunday to step away.
At least he finally had the closure he was craving.
“I’m really happy that I got the chance with the Avalanche to come back here and try for the last time and put an end to it,” said Forsberg, who will have his No. 21 sweater retired by the team at some point next season. “Knowing for fact, 100 per cent sure, that I’m not going to play anymore.
“When I look back, I’m going to be feeling pretty good about my career.”
His teammates were caught off guard by his abrupt decision. Captain Adam Foote even had a long chat with Forsberg on the plane ride home from Nashville and never once did the Swedish star bring up his troublesome foot.
“I’m surprised because of the way he played. I thought he played really good,” Foote said of his longtime teammate. “Obviously, he thinks after the two games he’s not going to be able to help us moving forward.
“As far as me selfishly, I want to say, ‘Yeah, you can help us. I saw the way you played.’ But if his foot is that bad and hurting him, that’s a problem I can’t fix or he probably can’t fix. That’s got to be frustrating for him.”
That foot has befuddled Forsberg for years. He has tried everything to get it right—undergone more surgeries than he can remember, attempted to use different types of skates and experimented with an assortment of braces.
Yet the foot still feels as if it’s constantly slipping and sliding inside the skate, a predicament that surfaced in the ’03 playoffs and has annoyed him ever since.
“We can fly to the moon, we should be able to fix the foot,” Forsberg said with a sly grin. “It’s been a problem and not one we’ve be able to solve. But it’s OK now. I’m happy with my career and move on from here.”
Forsberg thought he had the foot dilemma figured out this time, too. He’s been wearing a brace since his return, one that seemed to be supporting the foot quite nicely.
Against Columbus, he noticed his foot sliding again.
In the Nashville game a day later, it was even more evident.
Forsberg promised his fiancee, Nicole Nordin, that if he couldn’t adequately defend himself on the ice, he would hang up his skates.
So he followed through on that promise, welling up as he talked about retiring, glancing at his fiancee time and again for support.
“Of course it’s hard. When you like someone that much, you never want to see that person sad,” Nordin said. “I wanted it to work for him. But I think we can manage from here. I’m not worried.”
Forsberg was one of the best two-way players in the NHL during his prime, helping the Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001, and earning the league MVP in 2003.
He was supposed to make his home debut for the Avs on Monday night against Calgary, but didn’t want to disappoint a crowd that has been fiercely loyal to him, so much so his sweater still remains one of the most popular in the stands.
“I couldn’t get on the ice here, and skate around when people expected me to be good and (were) cheering,” Forsberg said.
Forsberg spent most of his career with the franchise 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.
Forsberg returned to Denver late in 2007-08, but was limited in the regular season because of a nagging groin injury.
But it’s his foot that’s given him the most grief, possibly costing him a place among the best to have ever skated.
Not in the eyes of those around him, though.
“He’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game,” Milan Hejduk said. “That’s the legacy, how he will go down in the books.”
The player known as “Foppa” was never one to back down from an encounter. He took a lot of hard hits over his storied career.
And Forsberg made sure to give plenty in return as well.
That style of play took its toll on his body, yet made him the player he was—a feared skater for his physical play and his deft scoring touch.
“His vision, strength on the puck and all he brought to the team was truly something we were all amazed with,” Joe Sakic said in a statement. “Obviously, the game is going to miss him. But on the other hand, it was great to see him come back with the Avalanche and finish off his career here.”
Even if his latest comeback bid was rather brief at just two games.
“I hope people here will remember …” Forsberg began, his words staunched by tears. “… that when I walked out of the rink, I gave everything.”