The year is 1994. The location is Lillehammer, Norway. It’s a sudden death shootout in the Olympic hockey finals. With the crowd screaming, Peter Forsberg is at the opposite blue line staring at Canada’s goalie, Corey Hirsch. Forsberg skates in and makes a move towards Hirsch’s right. All of a sudden with one hand he moves the puck to Hirsch’s left and slides the puck just under his glove hand and scores! When Paul Kariya could not answer on Sweden’s goalie Tommy Salo, the gold medal was awarded to Sweden for the first time.
An international hockey star was born.
Although drafted several years earlier at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, 6th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, Peter Forsberg had yet to play a game in the NHL. He had decided to stay in Sweden and play for his hometown team, MODO Hockey of the Swedish Elite League (SEL), or Elitserien as it was known colloquially.
The pick surprised many in the hockey media, especially in Philadelphia, as Forsberg was ranked as the 25th best player in the draft and predicted to be a solid 2nd round pick. General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers at the time, Russ Farwell, and the team’s chief European scout both defended the pick and claimed time would prove them right.
At the 1992 entry draft, Forsberg’s rights were traded by the Philadelphia Flyers, in arguably the biggest trade in NHL history – a massive package of five players, two draft picks and $15 million in cash sent to the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for Eric Lindros. Little did Forsberg know at the time, but this would end up being the best possible situation for his NHL career.
Personal Life and Early Playing Career
Peter Forsberg was born July 20th, 1973 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. He began playing hockey at the age of 5 on a team where almost all of the players were at least 3 years older than him.
Forsberg is the son of Kent Forsberg, who would end up coaching Peter for much of his playing career in his homeland. The two teamed up from 1991 to 1994 in MODO, later for the national team in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, then for the 1998 Olympic ice hockey tournament as well as the 1998 World Championship, which Sweden won.
Forsberg made his professional hockey debut during the 1989-1990 season. He began the season with MODO’s junior team but played one game with the SEL senior squad, recording an assist in his only game.
The following season would see him score 102 points in 39 games with the junior team and 17 points in 23 games with the senior team. Over the next four seasons, Forsberg would go on to score 133 points in 128 games in the SEL and by this time became widely viewed as the best hockey player outside of the NHL.
Beginnings of His NHL Career
Forsberg made his debut in the NHL during the lockout shortened season, 1994-1995. Ironically, his very first preseason game would be against Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers. While Quebec lost the penalty filled game (144 minutes in total), Forsberg had a goal and an assist. Forsberg would win the Calder Trophy by season’s end as the NHL’s premier rookie.
Before the 1995-1996 season began, the Quebec Nordiques were sold to the COMSAT Entertainment Group. The team would be relocated to Denver and was subsequently named the Colorado Avalanche.
Forsberg’s NHL Peak
The first season in Denver would go on to be Forsberg’s best statistically, finishing the regular season with 116 points – including 86 assists. He would add another 21 points in the Avalanche’s 22 playoff games.
This particular team included several great hockey players in the likes of Joe Sakic, Claude Lemieux, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Ricci (also acquired in the Eric Lindros trade) and, perhaps most importantly, goaltender Patrick Roy. In addition to the season being Forsberg’s personal best, the team won its first Stanley Cup Championship by sweeping the Florida Panthers in four straight.
Across the next four seasons, Forsberg would be one of the scoring leaders of the NHL with 325 points in 264 games.
In 2001, the Avalanche would go on to win their second Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, Forsberg was unable to participate in the Stanley Cup Finals as he needed to have his spleen removed after the 2nd round series against the Los Angeles Kings. Forsberg would sit out the next season to recover. He would, however, return for the playoffs and lead the team in scoring with 27 points in 20 games, while the Avalanche would ultimately lose to the archival Detroit Red Wings in the Conference Finals.
During the 2002-2003 season, Forsberg would go on to have his best season since the team’s first in Denver, and led the league with 106 points, 77 assists and a plus-52 rating. Forsberg would win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer and the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. Unfortunately though, the days of the Avalanche playing deep into the playoffs were over.
The 2004-05 Lockout and Philadelphia
Forsberg returned to MODO for the 2004-2005 season, signing a one year contract before the NHL confirmed that a lockout would cancel their season. He was again coached by his father and had the opportunity to play with his good friend Markus Naslund, and rising stars Henrik and Daniel Sedin. However, Forsberg’s season was shortened due to injury – something that was becoming more commonplace.
When the NHL returned for the 2005-06 season, Forsberg was one of many victims of the newly implemented salary cap. The Avalanche had been one of the league’s biggest spenders and would not be able to re-sign Forsberg to a new contract. Forsberg would go on to sign with the team that originally drafted him in 1991, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Forsberg would play parts of two injury shortened seasons with Philadelphia, many of those missed games a result of ongoing foot problems. During his first season, he would form one of the league’s best lines with Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, scoring 75 points in 60 games.
Before his second season with Philadelphia, Forsberg would have surgery to help fix the issues with his feet. He was supposed to have surgery on each foot and sit out until January. However, Forsberg would limit the surgery to one foot and return at the beginning of the season.
Leaving Philly, Brief Stay in Nashville, a Return to Colorado
During his second season with Philadelphia, the organization decided it would rely mainly on younger players such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger. Inexperience combined with Forsberg missing much of the season due to his still lingering foot problems, would ultimately end up seeing the worst season in the history of the franchise.
The Flyers decided it was time to rebuild and with his impending free agency looming, Forsberg was traded to the Nashville Predators near the trade deadline. The Predators would end up losing in the first round of the playoffs. Regular season and playoffs combined, Forberg generated four goals, 15 assists and 19 points in 22 games as a Predator.
On March 4, 2008, Forsberg returned to the Colorado Avalanche to be part of a 2007-08 shot at the Stanley Cup. Perhaps somewhat rejuvenated, he scored at a steady clip in nine regular season games with the team, tallying a goal and 13 assists. The Avalanche, however, would suffer a 2nd round playoff elimination to the Red Wings.
Opting to play parts of the next two seasons in his homeland with MODO, Forsberg would make one final (albeit brief) return to the NHL during the 2010-11 season. A mere two games he would play for the Avs on Feb. 11 and 12, before deciding to call it a career.
In total, he scored 249 goals, 636 assists and 885 points in only 708 regular season games. Additionally, Forsberg went 64-107-171 in scoring through 151 NHL playoff games as well. Furthermore, he ended his playing career as a 2-time Stanley Cup champion, a winner of the Calder, Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies. Internationally, Forsberg won two Olympic gold medals, two World Championship gold medals and three silver.
Taking all of that into consideration, combined with his almost otherworldly skill level, and it was no surprise when Peter Forsberg received Hockey Hall of Fame induction 2014. He goes down in history as one of the true greats of this game.
Fun Facts About Peter Forsberg
- Forsberg began playing hockey to follow his older brother, Roger
- “Foppa” actually does not have any specific translation in Swedish
- The move Forsberg used during the 1994 Olympics, which became known to many (and on recent video games) as “The Forsberg Move,” was borrowed from Kent Nilsson, a former Calgary Flame also from Sweden.
- Forsberg’s foot problems stem partially from a congenital issue in that the ligaments connecting his feet to his ankle are too lax and loose (picture a rubber band that does not snap back when you stretch it) He initially had surgery while with the Flyers to “tighten” up the ligaments. In addition, Dr. Bertil Romanus, from Sweden, has also said the problem has caused a muscle imbalance in Forsberg’s foot. The muscle on one side of his foot doesn’t work normally because a muscle on the other side has caused the imbalance. This imbalance causes pain and swelling when Forsberg put pressure on the foot, the type of pressure needed to skate. Regardless of the fact that Forsberg’s skate is fitted perfectly for his foot, the foot will tend to roll over within the skate boot as if he was wearing skates several sizes too big. Forsberg has said that the problem does not hinder his walking or even running.
- Forsberg has tried multiple different braces and custom designed instruments to help stabilize the foot. He even wore a battery pack during his return with the Avalanche in 2008 that was supposed to stimulate the muscles in his foot.
I believe I can speak for all hockey fans when saying I hope he has a chance to play again in the NHL, but if he doesn’t, he has definitely provided us with many great memories.