He never gave up and fought a terrible disease until his last days.
The heartbreaking loss was felt throughout the hockey world.
Club this Thursday NHL Toronto Maple Leafs has shared the news that all hockey fans have long been afraid to hear. It was announced that the illustrious quarterback, a member of the Hall of Fame Borje Salming died at the age of 71.
Swede battled degenerative muscle disease ALS, announcing his diagnosis in August 2022. The disease came to Salming suddenly and quickly enough “ate” the famous player, who until recently was ready to participate in veteran matches. ALS “turns off” most of the muscles in the body, making it difficult for a person to even swallow food.
Salming was a hockey trailblazer throughout his incredible career, paving the way for Europeans in the NHL when he joined the Maple Leafs in 1973.
Salming will forever remain not only one of the best defensemen of his era, but also one of the best hockey players of all time. Contrary to the image that European hockey players had, Salming was a fierce warrior on the ice, displaying physical strength and fearlessness that amazed people. Salming was runner-up twice for the Norris Trophy, finishing his NHL career with 150 goals and 637 assists in 1,148 career games. He was named to the NHL All-Star Team in 1977.
As a Maple Leafs player, Salming set the standard for what their player should aim for. In his 16 years with the club, Salming set a whopping six franchise records that he holds to this day, including most career points for a defenseman, most career goals for a defenseman, most career assists by a player in any position. At the end of his impressive career, Salming became the first Swedish-born, European-educated NHL player ever to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The hockey world has lost one of its most impressive people. More recently, he was able to travel at the invitation of Toronto to the Maple Leafs matches, and he was greeted with a standing ovation by a packed stadium. Then everyone guessed that Borya did not last long, but no one could have imagined that everything would happen so quickly.
“His family said he hadn’t been as happy as he was in Toronto in a long time. At least not since he was diagnosed.”said his former partner and other famed Maple Leaf Darryl Sittler. A few days after his return, Salming died at his home in Naka, surrounded by his family.
“I kept in touch with his wife and daughter until last night and we didn’t think it would happen so quickly. At the same time, we knew that his condition was rapidly deteriorating and things were not going well. So, to be honest, this is a terrible disease, but when you know that there is only one way out, it’s nice that it still happened so quickly that he does not have to suffer.‘, Sittler added.
Salming, the first European to play 1,000 games in the NHL, made it clear in the 1970s that Swedes, and Europeans in general, could be just as badass as their North American counterparts. Salming’s resilience was on display in 1986 when the Red Wings forward Gerard Gallan (the current head coach of the Rangers) accidentally cut the Swede in the face with his skate. Salming returned to the ice just two weeks later with over 200 stitches to his face.
“I just put on the visor and then played. It didn’t matter much.” the Swede said two years ago. True, at that moment his wife was furious at such a decision and told the then 35-year-old defender that it was time to retire, since Borye had no self-preservation instinct.
“Look, it could have been worse. He could cut out my eye, ”Salming retorted.
“Salming was as physically and mentally strong as he was talented. He paved the way for many of the greatest players in NHL history and shattered any stereotypes about European players that were prevalent in a league filled almost entirely with North Americans prior to his arrival in 1973.”NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
In Sweden, all upcoming hockey matches will begin with a minute of silence in memory of Salming. In the NHL, Toronto will honor his memory.