A pioneer of Ice Hockey, an ambassador and gateway for Europeans to play in the NHL and a distinguished Toronto Maple Leaf, that’s how ice hockey fans whether they were backing him or biting him, will remember Börje Salming.
He died Thursday afternoon aged 71.
Anders Börje Salming started his career in the NHL when he made his debut for the Maple Leafs against the Boston Bruins in the 1973/74 season. So prolific was his performance during the game that he was named the best player of the game.
Within his first season, he managed to rack up 39 points with 5 goals and 34 assists in 76 games.
By 1989, he’d been skating with the Maple Leafs for almost two decades and played 1099 games, scored 150 goals and 637 assists.
He would later sign a free agent agreement with the Detroit Red Wings for one season, finishing out his NHL career.
Salming was one of the first Swedes to make an impression on the NHL, in a time when they were ridiculed as ‘Swedish Chickens’ lacking the toughness to play.
Things would change with Salming’s influence on the game. The Maple Leafs had been looking for another Swede, Inge Hammarstrom but Salming’s exceptional skills got the attention of the Leaf’s scout Gerry McNamara, who made the calls to draft him.
Salming got famous not only for his play-style which involved a lot of rushing, wrist shots and intricate passing, he had a phenomenon stamina. At the age of 38, he was still able to play the best past of 40 minutes on the ice.
In the decades that would follow, more Swedes would find themselves drafted into the NHL including a disciple of Salming’s Mats Sundin. The Maple Leafs captain praised Salming for what he did for Swedes in the NHL.
‘Every Swede respects Borje and pays him tribute for what he has done. For us – Swedish hockey players – he is the man who showed us the right way; he is a trailblazer.’
Salming would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
Check out more Swedish NHL players who recently got inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame:
In July 2022, Salming was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He would later publicly reveal his condition through his old club.
So crushing was the news that Salming would develop a severe depression.
When he finally opened up about his condition in October, he revealed that he was unable to speak and was using a feeding tube for meals.
This would not stop him making a very important and poignant appearance at the Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.
In a very emotional gathering, he would be joined by lifelong friend Darry Sittler and fellow Swede Mats Sundin, to drop the ceremonial puck on a game honouring his contribution to the team. The game would feature a line-up of all 6 Swedish players in the team.
Asked on reflection, Sittler would tell CBC News, ‘It was a magical moment. People who watched that, and the people who participated in it, they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives’.
No more than a fortnight later, Salming would pass away.
The NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has praised Salming for legacy on the sport as well as his mental and physical fortitude,
‘He blazed the trail that many of the greatest players in NHL history followed while shattering all of the stereotypes about European players that had been prevalent in a League populated almost entirely by North Americans before his arrival in 1973.’
Awards and Accolades:
Named to the All-Star Team at the World Ice Hockey Championships in 1973.
Named to the Swedish All-Star Team in 1973 and 1989.
Named to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1977.
Awarded the Viking Award (Best Swede in North America) in 1976, 1977 and 1979.
Awarded the Molson Cup (Most 3 Star Selections) in 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1980.
Named to the Canada Cup All-Star Team in 1976.
Played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
Awarded the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award in 1982.
Played for Team NHL in the 1979 Challenge Cup.
Named to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998.
Named to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team in 2008. Recipients: Vladislav Tretiak, Börje Salming, Viacheslav Fetisov, Valeri Kharlamov, Sergei Makarov and Wayne Gretzky.
Number (21) Retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs
‘100 Greatest Players’ in NHL history
Swedish Ice Hockey Association All-Century Team