ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Avalanche coach Joe Sacco proclaimed after practice that Peter would play against St. Louis.
Not Forsberg, the former NHL MVP who’s contemplating a comeback.
But Budaj, the backup goalie.
A clever, though unintentional, tease by Sacco, whose team hosts the Blues on Monday night.
As for possibly when—or even if—Forsberg might return to the NHL, that’s still unknown. Forsberg went through his first practice with the Avalanche on Sunday in a tiny arena packed with people wearing No. 21 jerseys and waving Swedish flags.
And Sacco put the squad through a laborious workout after two straight lopsided losses. The Avs were on the ice for around 90 minutes, squeezing in some extra skating drills at the end that left Forsberg bent over and gasping for air.
Still want to return?
The 37-year-old Forsberg insists he does if his bothersome right foot can handle it, the one that’s hampered him over the latter part of his career and caused him to consider retirement even though he felt like he could still play.
“It’s good. Can’t complain. It’s been worse,” said Forsberg, who has yet to sign a contract with Colorado or been promised anything beyond a chance to measure his conditioning level against the team. “I’m not going to talk about it exactly, but it felt OK today.”
Forsberg came away impressed with the speed of his younger teammates, struggling at times to keep up. Wearing a white Avalanche jersey, Forsberg looked solid in a scoring drill against forward Daniel Winnik, even showing he hasn’t lost his offensive flair on a spin move that nearly beat Budaj in net.
After players headed into the dressing room, Forsberg remained on the ice to hone his game. He would’ve been out there longer had a Zamboni driver not honked a horn so he could prepare the ice for a youth game.
Only reluctantly did Forsberg call it a day.
“I’m excited to be out there and see how it goes,” Forsberg said. “Keep on practising now and hopefully get better and better and see where I’m at.”
Forsberg’s return this time is much different from 2007-08, when he joined the Avs late in the year and finished with one goal and 13 assists in nine games. A nagging groin ailment hindered him back then.
“I feel better than I did—I can’t say I played well then,” Forsberg said. “Most of the goals and stuff you could barely see me in the highlights, if you didn’t see the extended version. I have to be better than I was back then.”
He’s not leaning toward a direction after just one practice. He will take his time, assess his conditioning and skill level before deciding on a return.
But he’s definitely ahead of where Sacco envisioned he would be.
“I thought he looked well. I thought he played well,” Sacco said. “He worked hard, considering the terms of the practice. It was a hard practice out there today. But I thought he looked like he had energy.”
At first, his teammates were in awe of him. Being such a young squad, many grew up idolizing the Swedish sensation. That includes 20-year-old Matt Duchene, who had pictures of Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic adorning the walls of his bedroom.
“It was definitely pretty amazing to get on the ice with him, get a chance to see up close what I watched as a kid,” Duchene said. “A buddy said to me, ‘This is 12-year-old Matt’s dream.’ Pretty crazy—eight years later, getting to skate with him. I’m thrilled to get this opportunity.”
He’s also taking advantage of the opportunity, frequently asking Forsberg questions.
“It would be cool if he gets in the lineup,” Duchene said. “He looked great. I don’t think he’s missed much of a beat.
“Obviously, he hasn’t been in the NHL for a while, but for a guy like him, a player of that calibre, it’s going to be pretty easy to get back into it.”
Forsberg had his most productive seasons with Colorado, winning two Stanley Cup titles and the league’s MVP in 2003. He’s still a fan favourite as they flocked to see him in action Sunday at the team’s practice facility, filling every seat in the tiny venue and then standing along a stairway.
“I had to work harder on every drill,” Forsberg chuckled. “It’s awesome to be back here and putting on an Avalanche jersey again. I’m going to be out there with the guys and hopefully I can stick.”