Maple Leafs legend Borje Salming dies, lived with ALS

Maple Leafs legend Borje Salming dies, lived with ALS

Borje Salming, the legendary NHL defenseman and pioneer of European players in North America, has died. He was 71 and had been diagnosed with ALS earlier this year.

The Toronto Maple Leafsfor whom Salming played most of his career, issued a statement Thursday to announce Salming’s death.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Börje Salming,” said Brendan Shanahan, president and alternate governor of the Leafs. “Börje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestionable toughness. He helped open the door for Europeans to the NHL and defined himself through his play on the ice and his contributions to the community

Börje joined the Maple Leafs 50 years ago and will forever be a part of our hockey family. We send our deepest condolences to his wife Pia, his children Theresa, Anders, Rasmus, Bianca, Lisa and Sara and brother Stieg.”

Salming’s decorated NHL career spanned 17 seasons from 1973 to 1990 between Toronto and Detroit, with a resume that boasted 1,148 games and 787 points. Salming, a two-time Norris Trophy runner-up, became the first Swedish-born player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996 and two years later was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame . The blueliner was a first-team NHL All-Star in 1977 and a five-time second-team NHL All-Star from 1975-1980.

For 16 of his 17 NHL campaigns, Salming was “The King” of Toronto, patrolling the Maple Leafs’ blue line with a physicality and sheer strength that defied common stereotypes that Swedish skaters like him were too much soft to achieve it. NHL contusions. Salming made an immediate impression when Leafs scout Gerry McNamara saw him play overseas in 1973. McNamara was in Sweden to scout Inge Hammarstrom; instead, he ended up signing Salming to a free agent deal.

The defender quickly became a fan favorite in Toronto and embraced his popularity there. In January 1998, Salming became the first European player to reach the 1,000-match mark. The following year, Salming signed a one-year free agent contract with the Red Wings to finish his career. Salming’s legacy in Toronto as the franchise’s defensive leader in assists (620) and points (760) remained, however, and his No. 21 has been retired by the organization.

After retiring, Salming remained an active part of the hockey community, which was devastated to learn of his ALS diagnosis in August. A progressive disease of the nervous system, ALS affects cells in the brain and spinal cord and leads to loss of muscle control. Salming began experiencing symptoms in February and his health declined rapidly from there. Last month, Salming revealed that he had lost the ability to speak.

Despite his illness, Salming’s determination remained intact. He was determined to attend the Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto earlier this month, when three more Swedish players would be inducted. Salming pulled it off and the Maple Leafs honored him with a pregame tribute against Vancouver. A defeated Salming took to the ice surrounded by family to receive a standing ovation. The ceremonial discus drop was made by the Swedes Oliver Ekman-Larsson i William Nylanderand Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe designed a starting lineup that featured all six of Toronto’s Swedish players.

This was the second event in as many nights where Salming was recognized. The night before, at the annual Hall of Fame game between Toronto and Pittsburgh, Salming was helped onto the ice by good friend and former teammate Darryl Sittler, who broke down in tears as Salming cheered in the arena. Salming met with Sittler in September and said he wanted to be in Toronto for the weekend that would feature three members of Swedish descent: Henrik and Daniel Sedin of Vancouver and Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa.

Salming was a pioneer in every way, making it possible for today’s European players to thrive in the American realm.

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