Two thoughts jump out from Peter Forsberg’s ice hockey career with the Colorado Avalanche. One: What was. Two: What might have been.
The Swedish center played on two Stanley Cup championship teams in Denver and won the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s most valuable player in 2003. As one of the stars of the franchise’s early days in Colorado, he helped spawn interest in the sport that led to a long sell-out streak, stunning sales of No. 21 Avalanche jerseys, and even the emergence of the state as one of the nation’s youth hockey hotbeds.
Along the way, Forsberg was a cornerstone of two Olympic gold-medal teams for his native Sweden, in 1994 and 2006. That all was impressive enough. Beyond that, though, there were the injuries and other issues that interrupted and eventually ended his career prematurely, leaving us to wonder what he might have accomplished without those obstacles. Ultimately, after a two-game try at a comeback with the Avalanche last spring, he decided the ongoing foot problems — and what he termed an inability to defend himself — wouldn’t allow him to play up to the exacting standards of his own expectations and he announced his retirement at age 37.
But what a run it was…
Although Forsberg was a first-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers, his rights went to the Quebec Nordiques in a 1992 mega-deal that sent Eric Lindros’ rights to the Philadelphia Flyers. Ironically, that trade would turn out to be one of the major building blocks for the Avalanche success. Forsberg joined the Nordiques for the lockout-shortened 1995 season and won the league’s Rookie-of-the-Year award.
Then came the Nordiques’ franchise move to Colorado, where Forsberg and captain Joe
Sakic — a 2010 Colorado Sports Hall of Fame inductee — were the one-two center punch that bedeviled opponents in their complementary ways. Forsberg’s strength on the puck was unparalleled, even in a league that at the time was plagued by clutching, grabbing and mugging.
Sensing hits coming, he often dished out as much punishment as he took, and then could finish off a play with a setup pass or a breathtaking goal.
Famously, Forsberg suffered a serious injury in Game 7 of a playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings during the 2001 Cup run and underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen. He could have played and accepted his salary the next season, but he chose not to because of those pesky self-standards. Yet he rejoined the Avalanche in time to get ready for the 2002 playoffs… and then had nine goals in 20 games before Colorado fell to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals. He was the league MVP the next year, and the way he took over games in the last half of that season was the best of “Foppa” on display.
Eventually, primarily because the implementation of the salary cap limited the Avs’ options, Forsberg left Colorado in 2005 and had stints with Philadelphia and Nashville before returning to give additional comeback tries with the Avalanche in 2008 and 2011.
He finished his NHL career with 249 goals and 636 assists, for 885 points in “only” 708 games.
I wouldn’t accept losing as a a team, would accept losing as my team. It’s like a war every practice.