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 and 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 in Sweden.
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, while still playing in Sweden, Forsberg’s rights were traded by the Philadelphia Flyers, in arguably the biggest trade in NHL history, as part of a massive package of 5 players, 2 draft picks and $15 million in cash, to the Quebec Nordiques for Eric Lindros. Little did Forsberg know at the time, but this would end up being the best thing for his NHL career.
Personal Life and Early Playing Career
Peter Forsberg was born July 20th, 1973 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. He is the son of Kent Forsberg, who would end up coaching Peter for much of his playing career in Sweden. The two teamed up from 1991 to 1994 in MODO Hockey, later for the national team in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, then for the 1998 Olympic ice hockey tournament, and for the 1998 World Championship, which Sweden won. Peter 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 made his professional hockey debut during the 1989-1990 season. He began the season with MODO Hockey’s junior team but played one game with the senior team that played in the SEL, the highest-level professional ice hockey league in Sweden, and scored 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. It was after this season that he was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. Over the next 4 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.
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 1 goal and 1 assist and was named Quebec’s best player. Forsberg would win the Calder Trophy at the end of the season, awarded to the Rookie of the Year.
The first season in Denver would go on to be Forsberg’s best statistically, finishing the regular season with 116 points (including 86 assists), and adding 21 more points in 22 playoff games. The team included several great hockey players in Joe Sakic, Claude Lemieux, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Ricci (also acquired in the Eric Lindros trade) and, most importantly, Patrick Roy. In addition to the season being Forsberg’s personal best, the team won its first Stanley Cup Championship, beating the Florida Panthers. During the next four seasons, Forsberg would be one of the scoring leaders in the NHL with 325 points in 264 games.
In 2001, the Avalanche would go on to win its 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, with the Avalanche losing to their arch rival 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 +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, the days of the Avalanche playing deep into the playoffs were over.
Forsberg returned to MODO Hockey for the 2004-2005 season, signing a one year contract before the NHL confirmed that a lockout would cancel the 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. Unfortunately, his season was shortened due to injury, something that was unfortunately becoming more common for Forsberg.
When the NHL returned for the 2005-2006 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 go on to 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 hopefully 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.
During his second season with Philadelphia, the organization decided it would rely on many young players such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger. This combined with Forsberg missing much of the season due to his still lingering foot problems, would unfortunately end up being 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.
Forsberg would make his final appearance to date in the NHL during the following season where he returned to the Colorado Avalanche on March 4, 2008. Forsberg played 9 games scoring 14 points, leading the league in average points per game. Colorado lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Forsberg considered a comeback during the 2008-2009 season, many in the media calling him the “Brett Favre of hockey” because of his annual decision of whether to play or not, but ultimately decided against it. After suiting up for one game in Sweden, he decided he wasn’t able to continuing playing at this time and is hoping for one more attempt at a comeback in the 2009-2010 season.
If Forsberg never plays another game in the NHL, he will still go down as one of the most dynamic, two-way players to ever play the game. He combined excellent speed, vision and amazing passing skills with an aggressive physical game. Forsberg could just as easily slow the game down waiting to make an amazing pass to a driving winger, use his great speed to pass by a defender, or drive right through the defender with his physical strength. He was arguably the best player in the NHL during his prime and with two Olympic gold medals, two Stanley Cups and more than 800 NHL points to his name; Forsberg is a lock to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Did You Know?
- 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.
To view Foppa’s career statistics, follow this link to the Internet Hockey Database