I’m not saying his career in the NHL and especially as a member of the Colorado Avalanche wasn’t great. But you know and I know that, as one of hockey’s greatest players, he wanted more time on the ice. And if it weren’t for the constant foot injuries, he would have a long career still ahead of him.
I wasn’t sure what to think when I first heard Forsberg was coming out of retirement late last month to give the Avs a needed push this season. Were his nagging foot injuries really healed? Could he still skate like he used to? Could he actually lead a struggling Avalanche team to the post season? Or was it just a ploy to sell more tickets by the Avalanche organization?
Whatever the reason, a spark was briefly lit for Colorado fans when the news of Forsberg’s return was finalized. The former NHL Most Valuable Player was coming back to Colorado at a time when his team needed him most. He began skating with the Avs on Jan. 22, testing his foot. Then, according to The Denver Post, he signed a $1 million prorated deal to play out the rest of this season in hopes of bringing the team another Stanley Cup, like he’s done twice, previously.
During his return, Forsberg played in two road games with a new foot brace that seemed to give him the support he sorely needed. But it didn’t work, and after returning for only two games, Forsberg announced on Valentine’s Day that he would retire forever from the game of hockey.
“We can fly to the moon; we should be able to fix the foot,” a tearful Forsberg said, when he made the announcement. “It’s been a problem and not one we’ve been able to solve. But it’s OK now. I’m happy with my career and will move on from here.”
His decision to retire really isn’t a shocker. The real shocker would have been his feet/ankles healing 100 percent. Forsberg was injury prone throughout his career, but nobody skated harder than he did while he was on the ice.
There are the crafty finesse players in hockey. There are the big physical brutes. And then there are the enforcers. Somehow Forsberg encompassed all three of those styles in his play.
During his shift on the ice, he went 110 percent all of the time. He often looked like a madman chasing the puck, getting physical on the boards and then shooting the puck with the most delicate accuracy. I’m not sure I have seen any professional hockey players handle the puck with his consistent level of intensity and skill. He was graceful, yet he played with reckless abandon.
There were so many times when he seemed to be the hardest-working player on the ice. Forsberg played too hard sometimes. It was only in his third year in the NHL when he sat out 17 games because of a bruised thigh. He separated his shoulder in the Western Conference finals in 1999.
And who could forget after game seven of the Western semifinals in 2001 when Forsberg was eating dinner at a Denver steakhouse and was rushed to a hospital with a ruptured spleen, sustained in the game.
Who ruptures their spleen, then goes out to dinner after the game? Only Peter Forsberg. The list of his injuries continued on from there. In 2001 he missed an entire regular season with ankle injuries, but returned to the playoffs that season and lead all scores with 27 points in three rounds.
The intensity with which Forsberg played left no question as to why he was constantly injured. No man would be able to stand up to the physical beating he put himself through game in and game out. I remember asking myself several times, why he doesn’t just slow down a little bit. Back off a little. Keep from being hurt. Instead he hurled himself all over the rink, roughing people up. He handed out assists like they were candy, and scored a ton of goals. He would always skate back to the bench gnawing on his mouthpiece like nothing was going on at all.
In the end, it was this level of play that forced him away from the game. He was too tough and too physical for his own good.
He won two Stanley Cups with the Avalanche, two Olympic gold medals with Sweden and two-world championship trophy’s.
While his time on the ice may have been cut short, his legacy for toughness will never be forgotten. His No. 21 sweater will be retired by the Avalanche next season.