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Borje Salming: A trailblazer with an indomitable spirit who has achieved all of it

Former Toronto Maple Leafs Borje Salming waves to the group throughout a pregame ceremony Nov. 11 in Toronto.Canadian Press

Borge Salming, a hockey profession remembered for sophistication, braveness, ability and toughness, died Thursday in Sweden on the age of 71, 5 months after being recognized with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often known as Lou Gehrig’s illness.

Trailing the Swedes and different European gamers who adopted him into the NHL, Salming was the primary Swede to be inducted into the Hockey Corridor of Fame in 1996. He performed for the Maple Leafs and Detroit Purple Wings for 16 seasons beginning in 1973. for a yr thereafter.

The most effective defenseman to ever put on a Toronto jersey, he holds a half-dozen workforce data and was a six-time All-Star throughout his profession.

Though terminally in poor health, Salming’s dying got here as a shock, as he was in Toronto lower than two weeks earlier than the Hockey Corridor of Fame’s annual sport. He obtained a standing ovation when he was launched earlier than the Maple Leafs and Penguins sport on Nov. 11 and was the topic of a prolonged pregame tribute at Scotiabank Enviornment the next night time.

Salming, often known as the King, was an excellent Maple Leaf when the workforce wasn’t doing so nicely.JOHN MACNEIL / The Globe and Mail

Salming’s pricey pal and former teammate, Darryl Sittler, accompanied him onto the ice and helped him increase one hand to acknowledge the rain of cheers. Tears flowed from the Salmings and Salming’s eyes.

“In case you’re not enthusiastic about it, you do not have a soul,” Sportsnet hockey reporter and NHL insider Elliott Friedman stated Thursday.

On November 14, three Swedes, Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, had been launched as Salming and his household watched from the sidelines.

“Nice Leaf” will get its personal Lou Gehry second on Borge Salming tribute night time

“He cherished the Corridor of Fame weekend and wished to be there,” Friedman stated. “The Corridor of Famers advised him he did not need to do something he did not need to do, however he was in nearly all the things. It meant quite a bit to him.”

In February, Salming’s muscle groups started to really feel uncommon tremors. In mid-July, he was recognized with ALS, a progressive illness of the nervous system. He revealed the prognosis by the Maple Leafs group on Aug. 10, saying in October his situation worsened, inflicting him to lose the power to talk and depend on a feeding tube.

His dying was introduced by his household and the Maple Leafs.

“Borje was a pioneer of the sport, an icon of indomitable spirit and unquestionable toughness,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan stated in a press release. “He outlined himself by his efficiency on the ice and his contributions to the neighborhood.”

Salming grew to become a trailblazer for the Swedes and different European gamers who entered the NHL.STF / Canadian Press

Toronto gamers had been knowledgeable of Salming’s dying throughout a workforce assembly earlier than observe in St. Paul, Minn. The Maple Leafs play the Minnesota Wild on Friday afternoon.

“It is laborious to course of,” stated Toronto’s Canadian-born Swedish proper wing William Nylander. “It actually shocked me. We noticed him a couple of weeks in the past. It is very irritating.”

On the night time of November 12, Nylander joined Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Vancouver Canucks in a puck drop ceremony. Salming dropped the puck between them, then Neylander scooped it up, handed it to him, and gave it a mild hug.

That night time, the Maple Leafs’ opening lineup included six Swedish gamers for the primary time in franchise historical past.

“It is actually unhappy information,” stated Sweden’s Erik Kallgren, who performed in Toronto’s objective towards Vancouver. “I am glad the group took the time to deliver him to Toronto and present him how a lot they respect him. I like his household and everybody near him.”

Salming signed with Toronto as a free agent in the summertime of 1973. Though he had beforehand been a star within the Swedish high league for a few years, he was anticipated to be gentle, a prejudice towards gamers from Europe. He was crushed a couple of instances in his first yr, however gave as a lot punishment as he received and altered the notion of international gamers.

Maple Leafs nice Paul Henderson, an 11-year NHL veteran when Salming arrived in Toronto, remembers the then-22-year-old as a bodily specimen.

“He had the perfect physique I’ve ever seen,” Henderson stated. “He was 5 p.c physique fats and I assumed, ‘Who is that this man?’

“He did all the things nicely. He was superb.”

Salming owns nearly the entire Maple Leafs defensemen’s rights.Gary Hershorn / Canadian Press

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman paid the identical tribute. He known as Salming “a towering presence and transformational determine within the historical past of the league.”

“Borje Salming was as powerful bodily and mentally as he was proficient,” Bettman stated. “He broke all of the stereotypes about Europeans that prevailed in a league that was nearly completely North American earlier than his arrival and began a path adopted by a number of the biggest gamers in NHL historical past.”

Salming holds practically each franchise document for a Maple Leafs defenseman, together with objectives (148), assists (620) and factors (768). He performed in 1,229 NHL video games, together with common season and playoff video games, earlier than retiring No. 21 in 2006.

Referred to as the King, he was an excellent Maple Leaf in an period when his workforce wasn’t excellent. God, he was powerful. He as soon as lower his face open with a skate blade and obtained 300 stitches. His face seemed like a streetcar map of downtown Toronto.

Ron McLean, sportscaster finest often called a CBC anchor Hockey Evening in CanadaThe Canadiens recalled how they fell in love with Salming when he landed within the NHL.

“The league was very homogenous and he was mysterious,” McLean stated. “Every part about him blew us away. His huge slaps, his swish skating … he not solely performed our sport, he owned it.”

McLean will always remember the night time of November eleventh and twelfth when Salming returned residence to Toronto for the final time.

“These two nights had been magical,” McLean stated. “It was all stated and achieved to see the love he gave Darryl Sittler, his captain.”

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