Salming creates an emotional moment for other Maple Leafs legends, fans
And so it was Friday at Scotiabank Arena, during the pregame ceremony for the annual Hall of Fame game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There they were, Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin, both Hockey Hall of Famers, standing on the ice and fighting back tears as they held the arms of their friend, Borje Salming, who was between them.
Salming, the first Swedish player elected to the Hall of Fame and one of the most popular players in Maple Leafs history, was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. The disease has deprived him of the ability to speak.
With the crowd giving Salming a standing ovation, Sittler lifted Salming’s arm and helped him salute. The roar of the capacity crowd grew louder.
“No one will ever forget this moment, this game, this night,” Sittler said, eyes wide. “This is what Borje wanted. Even months ago, after he was diagnosed, he told us he wanted to be here for Hall of Fame weekend. And here he is.
“To be here with him tonight was a special night that I will always remember. And I think hockey fans will too.”
According to Sittler, so will Salming, even if he cannot express it outwardly due to his condition.
“I totally knew what was going on,” Sittler said. “Knowing Borje as I do and doing FaceTimes with him and talking to him, he’s well aware of everything. It’s not like he’s lost his mind. The emotion on his face when he cries, he can’t help it. It’s part of the disease that can’t control
“He’s fully aware though. I’ll talk to him, and he’ll give a thumbs up. He knows that, which is great. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he wanted to be here.”
Sittler said Salming could feel the love coming from the crowd. It was one of those moments that was touching and heartbreaking at the same time.
Very similar to Salming’s story.
The defenseman played 16 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs (1973-89) before finishing his career with the Detroit Red Wings (1989-90). He accumulated 787 points (150 goals, 637 assists) in 1,148 games and was the first Swedish-born player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
The 71-year-old announced in August that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of control muscular There are more than 800 ALS patients in Sweden and another 250 Swedes are diagnosed with ALS each year.
One of the first people to reach out to him was Sittler, who played with Salming in Toronto from 1973 to 1982 and was inducted into the Hall in 1989. Sittler, who turned 72 on Sept. 18, helped Salming to write the original release documenting his condition. and has been the man of reference in North America in efforts to help his friend.
As part of those efforts, Sittler reached out to Mark Kirton, a former NHL forward who played 13 games with the Maple Leafs from 1979 to 1981 and was mentored by Salming. The 64-year-old, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2018 and needs a wheelchair, immediately contacted Salming to help him and his family absorb the shock and guide them through way
A road that brought him to Scotiabank Arena on Friday, much to Sundin’s gratitude.
Sundin, the Maple Leafs’ all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987), was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. For a young man growing up in Sweden, he said Salming opened the gates for generations of Swedish players. to come to the NHL and thrive.
“I’m very happy that he and his family can make it,” Sundin said. “I think it’s a great weekend. And you have to understand, he’s done a lot for hockey in Sweden and for the generations that came after him. He paved the way. And in this city, here in Toronto and for Maple Leafs fans, he was one of the absolute best players here for a long time.
“For him and his family to be here for this reception, it’s fantastic.”
Sundin’s voice began to crack with emotion. During his playing days, the 51-year-old was known for being stoic and poker-faced. not tonight Not with Borje arm in arm with him.
“It’s hard to imagine what he’s going through, what his family is going through,” Sundin said, fighting back tears. “But I think this is a good way to pay tribute to him.”
Several meters away from Salming was another Swede, Daniel Alfredsson. The former Ottawa Senators captain was being honored as part of the Hall’s class of 2022. However, on what was a day for the hockey world to pay tribute to his career, his thoughts were with Salming.
“He played his heart out the whole time,” Alfredsson said. “I think he changed the perception not only of Swedish players, but of European players as well. He was a trailblazer for many of us and I’m glad he got the reception he did.
“You could tell he was touched by it. A great moment for a great person.”
The Maple Leafs will have another pregame ceremony Saturday before their game against the Vancouver Canucks, this time to specifically honor Salming. It will be another opportunity for fans and players to come together, perhaps for the last time.
“Borje was determined to be here, and here he is,” Sittler said. “He deserves this.”
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