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The Hockey World Stands with Borje Salming After ALS Diagnosis

It’s never the kind of news you want to hear from anyone – a diagnosis of ALS. Now, the hockey world is here to support Hockey Hall of Famer Borje Salming after he was afflicted with the terrible disease.
Borje Salming

It’s never the kind of news you want to hear from anyone – a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease – but it strikes especially hard when it’s someone you know. And for the past half-century, everyone in Toronto has known who NHL legend Borje Salming is. That makes his announcement Wednesday that he’s been afflicted with the terrible disease all the more painful for his millions of fans, his friends, and his family.

“I have received news that has shaken my family and me,” Salming said in a statement released by the Toronto Maple Leafs. “The signs that indicated that something was wrong in my body turned out to be the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig´s disease. In an instant, everything changed. I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced. I also recognize that there is no cure but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, there are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will remain positive.”

The 71-year-old Salming paved the way for Swedish players – and European players in general – during a 17-year, Hockey Hall-of-Fame NHL career, playing all but one season with the Leafs. His rugged but savvy style of play endeared him to Torontonians young and old, including this writer. He dealt with xenophobia and resentment from small-minded hockey people, but he always was a class act, right through his final season, which was spent with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1989-90 campaign. In 1,148 regular-season games, he generated 637 assists and 787 points.

Indeed, it was always Salming’s dignity that stood out. He handled the pathetic hatred from those who ached to keep the NHL only for North American players by simply going out, night after night, and being one of the best players on the ice. He dominated despite the circus Leafs owner Harold Ballard turned the team into in the 1970s. He was a brilliant example of the gifts the Swedes brought to the sport – quiet determination, genius vision, relentless pushes forward. He may not be the best Swede in hockey history – that title still goes to Red Wings icon Nicklas Lidstrom – but Salming deserves to be in the conversation, and he deserves to be recognized for paving the way for Lidstrom and all European players. And, in typical fashion, his announcement about his disease did not dwell on the negative.

“Since I started playing ice hockey as a little kid in Kiruna (Sweden), and throughout my career, I have given it my all,” Salming said in his statement Wednesday. “And I will continue to do so. Right now, I rest assured that I have my loving family around me and the best possible medical care.”

To say that Salming has the support of Torontonians and Leafs fans is an understatement in the extreme. Since his retirement, he has been a tremendous ambassador for the Leafs, and for the sport. He has our love, our respect, and our very best hopes as he battles the biggest foe of his lifetime. Hockey remains just a game, which is why the way you conduct yourself off the ice matters just as much, if not more, in the grand scheme of things.

In that regard, Salming can be seen as a Hall-of-Fame human being. His grace and willpower will be remembered far after he’s no longer with us, and despite his diagnosis, we hope he’s still around for decades. Here’s to you, Borje.

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