Sunday

Peter Forsberg

It is pretty safe to say Peter Forsberg left his stamp on the game of hockey.
Before "Foppa" came to North America and dominated the National Hockey League, he was the dominant player in his native Sweden. He was already well known to NHL fans, as he was a high draft choice, a standout at the World Junior Championships and the enticing centerpiece of the big Eric Lindros trade.

But Forsberg did not come to North America right away, preferring to play for Modo and the Swedish national team for 3 years. He was particularly interested in playing in the 1994 Winter Olympic games in Lillehammer, Norway, as at that time the NHL did not release their players to participate in the Olympics. Forsberg did not want to miss what at the time looked like his only chance at Olympic competition.

And what an Olympic competition it was. Sweden defeated Canada in a classic gold medal game that ended in a thrilling sudden death shootout. Peter Forsberg scored one of the most magnificent goals in the history of the sport for a thrilling ending, giving Sweden its first ever Olympic gold medal in hockey.

Posten AB, the Swedish postal service, decided to use the overhead image of Forsberg's goal to create a stamp to help launch the 1995 IIHF World Championships being held in Sweden. The stamp, pictured above, remains popular amongst hockey collectors all around the world.

With Olympic gold, World Championship gold and silver, and two Golden Puck awards (top player in Sweden's Elite League), the man regarded as the best player outside of the NHL decided it was time to begin his career in North America. The Quebec Nordiques, who patiently waited on their star prize, welcomed him with open arms.

Forsberg did not disappoint, recording 15 goals and 50 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened season. Forsberg cemented Nordiques' rising status as a Stanley Cup contender, but unfortunately for Quebec fans the franchise would relocate to Colorado in the 1995-96 season.

Making things even worse for those long suffering Nords' supporters was the fact that the newly minted Avalanche would win the Stanley Cup just one year after leaving Quebec City. Forsberg led the way with 116 points in the regular season and another 21 in the playoffs.

That would be Forsberg's greatest statistical season. When mostly healthy he became a regular 90+ point guy, but health was not a friend to Mr. Forsberg. Few players paid the physical price that Forsberg has. His thick doctor's file includes a ruptured spleen, serious groin and abdomen pulls, a bad shoulder, and nagging ankle surgeries that over time made it basically impossible for him to skate.

Despite playing in pain for most of a decade Forsberg never backed down as hockey's ultimate warrior. Though his body took a nightly beating, Forsberg played a fearless, power game in the relentless era of clutching and grabbing. As Andrew Podnieks wrote in The Hockey News book "The Top 60 Since 1967," "Forsberg is a man of the highest skills and standards, a player whose body could be bruised, but never his heart."

Many consider Forsberg's 2002-03 season as his best. He led the league in scoring with 106 points, capturing the Art Ross trophy. More impressively, he was named as the League's MVP, capturing the game's biggest individual regular season honour, the Hart Trophy.

I actually consider the previous season as Forsberg's most impressive, not that he played in any games in 2001-02. He sat out the entire year recovering from the ankle problems, and returned just in time for the playoffs. Though the Avalanche would bow out in the Western Conference Finals to their arch rivals the Detroit Red Wings, Peter Forsberg led the entire NHL in playoff scoring that year, despite missing the entire regular season!

Peter Forsberg was an amazing player. Despite constant pain in every stride, he was an explosive skater with excellent vision. He was a playmaker more than a goal scorer, and he relished the physical battles. There was definitely some of Gordie Howe's magic in this Super Swede. He is proud and fierce, sometimes a little bit cocky, with a mean streak necessary to survive the NHL battles. He was also a great playoff warrior.

Had injuries not taken their toll on his body, Forsberg would probably have been considered as the undeniable top player in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even with the injuries, many people believe he was. Those people would not be wrong.

The NHL's salary cap era pretty much forced Forsberg and the Avalanche to part ways in 2005. Forsberg moved to Philadelphia, but the injuries decimated any chance of success for him there. He would also briefly play for the Nashville Predators.

Forsberg did have one last moment of greatness left in him in 2006. He helped Team Sweden capture the gold medal at the 2006 Olympic games in Torino, Italy. It was a fitting final moment for one of hockey's greatest champions.

Although not officially retired yet as he hopes to get his ankle problems sorted out, it appears that Forsberg's NHL career is over.

He finishes playing in just 697 games, scoring 248 goals, 623 assists and 871 points. In 144 playoff contests, Forsberg dominated with 63 goals, 103 assists for 166 points.

2 comments:

geoduck November 11, 2008 at 10:52 PM  

In my opinion one of the five greatest players of all time.

Timbo November 20, 2008 at 7:00 AM  

Can't argue with top 5 -- although I'd actually go higher, IMHO.

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