Hall of Fame defenseman Borje Salming is the latest addition to Legends Row with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and will likely soon be joined by countryman Mats Sundin. Even though Salming paved the way for players such as Peter Forsberg, a teenaged Forsberg was not impressed during their first encounter.
On the same weekend Peter Forsberg is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, fellow Swede Borje Salming was welcomed into Legends Row with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nice symmetry there. Salming was asked a softball question about his first memory of Forsberg and we all expected a heartwarming tale.
Instead, we got this. Salming recalled playing against a teenaged Forsberg in the Swedish Elite League in the early 1990s. One night Salming’s AIK squad was playing Forsberg’s MoDo team. “(Forsberg) was going crazy on the ice and screaming at the refs and everything,” Salming said. “I skated up to him and I tried to calm him down. I said, ‘Peter, relax, you’re going to get a match penalty.’ And he just said to me, ‘F— off.’ “ (Salming later confirmed that Forsberg said it in Swedish, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.)
There is no doubt, though, that despite the lack of reverence Forsberg showed to Salming, it was Salming who helped pave the way for players such as Mats Sundin and Forsberg to follow later. By the time Sundin and Forsberg came to play in the league, it wasn’t acceptable to abuse an opponent just because he was from another part of the world. Salming helped change that by not only taking the abuse, but proving that he was tough enough of character and body to come back and return the favor. Not many players can say they beat up Dave Schultz, but Larry Robinson and Salming are two who can make that claim.
“We knew, me and Inge Hammerstrom, that it was going to be tough, but I don’t think we knew it was going to be as rough as it was in the ‘70s,” Salming said. “That wasn’t the way we played in Europe, but you just had to adjust. I had so many bruises and bags of ice after some games, but you never really think about it. It was fun.”
Salming is still revered in Toronto, an NHL team that has, remarkably never produced a Norris Trophy winner. But Salming at his best was in the conversation, as he is along with players such as Tim Horton, Red Horner and King Clancy as the best defenseman to ever wear a Maple Leaf uniform. He is just as revered in his homeland, right there with Forsberg, Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom. In fact, the standing ovation Salming received when he was introduced before a Canada Cup game in 1976 at Maple Leaf Gardens stands as one of the all-time greatest moments in Swedish sports.
“I don’t think I expected that,” Salming said. “Coming in there and playing for another team. It was incredible. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was amazing. That’s the way the fans always treated me here.”
At the age of 63, Salming looks as though he could still play the game. The bronze version of him will look pretty good, too, but Salming isn’t sure whether he wants the younger or older version of himself to accompany Darryl Sittler, Ted Kennedy and Johnny Bower. He figures the younger version of himself with the Jofa helmet would probably be more appropriate, but thinks the CCM helmet he wore later in his career makes him look better.
Just before Salming entered the room for the news conference, former Maple Leafs defenseman Bob McGill, now an analyst for Leafs TV, came in and declared, “He has a sore back from carrying me for 300 games.” Indeed Salming was one of the bright lights in a period of the team history that was not the greatest, going from being part of a very good team in the 1970s that was dismantled and set into disarray in the 1980s.
“Playing in Toronto was fantastic,” Salming said. “Playing here in the ‘70s was great with Darryl (Sittler) and Lanny (McDonald) and Tiger (Williams). We had a great team.”