Part of that greatness, of course, was Peter Forsberg. The Quebec Nordiques got him and a bunch of pieces that went into making our two Stanley Cup-winning teams in a blockbuster trade for Eric Lindros, but, truthfully, Forsberg would have been enough.
Forsberg was the quintessential power forward, the elite mix of power, speed and skill that made him impossible to defend against. He even created a trademark move, the offensive tackle: while skating with the puck, he’d check a player off of him before continuing to skate on, still with the puck.
Coloradans have a long tradition of revering our sports idols. Peter Forsberg is still one of the most popular sports icons in Colorado, a name easily recognizable by anyone who even knows we have a hockey team called the Avalanche. We may not quite get why we call him Foppa — it’s a Swedish thing — but we do it with true affection.
Peter the GreatPeter Forsberg is a hockey icon in his native Sweden. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Speaking of Sweden, Forsberg does not belong to us alone, of course. He is the only one of the greats not again associated with the Colorado Avalanche organization. That’s because he’s practically Swedish royalty.
Forsberg has won two World Championship gold medals and two Olympic gold medals with Sweden. He is also one of the few athletes featured on a postage stamp — they usually depict actual royalty.
The captured moment came from the 1994 Gold Medal game in Lillehammer, Norway. The game went to the shootout. Forsberg was up, and he claims he only had two shots available to him, and he’d already used one on a previous attempt.
So, the young (20 years old), audacious Forsberg effected a one-hand slide-in that was the trademark of Swedish hockey legend Ken Nilsson. It worked, Team Sweden won gold and Forsberg is forever immortalized on a stamp because of it.
Avs fans all have a favorite memory of Forsberg, even if they weren’t around in his heyday (though I was, luckily).
A very popular story is the time it was all Forsberg, all the time in a game against the Florida Panthers. The Avs were down 5-0 late in the second. The game looked unwinnable. Then Forsberg’s will to win took over. He scored just before the second intermission, scored a couple more in the third and had a hand in three of the four other Avalanche goals. The Avs won.
Of course, regular season games are just there to get you to the playoffs and a chance at the Stanley Cup. Well, Forsberg was a Force in the playoffs for sure. An especially memorable game came from the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals themselves, Game 2 to be exact. Forsberg scored a pure hat trick, all in the first period, against the Florida Panthers. (He really had it out for them, I guess.)
The Avalanche recorded a decisive 8-1 victory.
Our Peter Forsberg, No MoreOur hero, Peter Forsberg. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Forsberg’s health issues are well known. He had concussions and shoulder injuries. He had his spleen removed. Over the course of his career, he endured 20 operations. Many of them went toward trying to solve foot and ankle injuries that eventually made him hang up the skates. (While writing the Forsberg vs. Lindros piece, I was surprised and saddened to see Foppa had played 52 fewer games despite having spent five years longer in the NHL.)
The beginning of the end came in 2008. He had one of his foot surgeries, but signed with the Avs. He returned to the line in March, missed a few games, and didn’t even score his first of the season until April 1. Points-per-game he dominated, but he couldn’t hope to make big numbers in such a short season.
Forsberg announced he’d be playing for MODO Sweden the following year. A lot of us thought that was the last we’d see of our Peter Forsberg, and we were mostly right. He played two seasons with MODO, then started making retirement noises.
Then, the Avs Nation got some exciting news — Forsberg was training with the team! He was making a comeback! He was slated to play his first two games on the road, but the Avs Fam understood that — he wanted to get his game legs before appearing in front of the home crowd at Pepsi Center.
February 14, 2011, was supposed to be his homecoming. I had tickets to that game. I remember sitting in the crowd — I’d had a busy day and hadn’t heard the news — hearing people talk about Forsberg’s not playing. He had retired.
As I was still trying to wrap my head around that, the Avalanche played a video of his emotional speech announcing his retirement:
Forsberg started on a high note, and the crowd in Pepsi Center felt comforted at first. However, as our Peter Forsberg started getting emotional, as his voice started cracking at the end, I felt tears well up in my eyes. I looked around, and even the most testosterone-driven of male hockey fans had tears running down their faces. And I cried. Foppa, Peter the Great, The Force was our Peter Forsberg no more.
Peter Forsberg has stated that he has no regrets, despite the physical toll his playing style and career took on his body. Why should he regret? He won two Stanley Cups, two World Championship gold medals, two Olympic gold medals. He won trophies: Calder, Hart and Art Ross. And he won our hearts.
Tonight, our Peter Forsberg goes where he belongs, into the Hockey Hall of Fame for the world to be able to appreciate his greatness. We, the Avs Nation, were lucky that he was ours for a little while.