Hockey Legend Peter Forsberg
This Tuesday, seven-time National Hockey League All-Star, 2002 NHL MVP, and Colorado Avalanche Superstar, Peter Forsberg will leave the NHL to return to Sweden's Elite League and his hometown team called MoDo Hockey.
Forsberg's father, Kent Forsberg, will coach the team, just as he did in 1994, the last time Peter played for MoDo as a "junior", prior to leaving for the NHL.
Peter Forsberg will be joined this year (October '04 - April '05) by twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, Mattias Weinhandl of the New York Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Pierre Hedin.
Vancouver's Markus Naslund, one of Forsberg's childhood friends, and Niklas Sundstrom of the Montreal Canadians (a very "rugged elegant" gentleman nicknamed "Sunny" who used to play for the San Jose Sharks) is also expected to join their former club.
At this point in time, North American club owners have not resolved their labor dispute. This summer, Forsberg's contract with the Avalanche expired, making him an unrestricted free agent. While the thirty-one year-old star athlete has left the window open to return to the NHL another year, since there will be no start to the NHL season, Forsberg has moved home to Sweden.
Today, Forsberg signed a one year contract to play in his hometown of Ornskoldsvik, a town we call "The Big O."
"Foppaland" is how Swedes from The Big O refer to their town. Foppa is Peter Forsberg's nickname, a name given to him years ago.
When one enters the city of Ornskoldsvik, a city of 60,000 people, 6 hours north of Stockholm, there is a prominent sign that is likely to return now that their hometown hero is returning.
The sign: "Welcome to Foppaland!"
With MoDo Hockey's famous coach and son, fellow world-class players and fans from Ornskoldsvik, this team is destined to become one of the favorites to win the Elite League this year; a feat Forsberg has dreamed about his whole life.
"It feels best this way," Forsberg said at news conference in his native Ornskoldsvik.
"I’ve always said that I’ll play one more year for Modo Hockey, and now we’re here."
"I am absolutely devastated," said Malin Edmark, who grew up in The Big O, but is spending a year traveling through California (San Francisco, Los Angeles) and other parts of the world. The recent high school graduate has bought MoDo season tickets for as long as she can remember. Since Forsberg came to America, she has been looking forward to seeing him return to Sweden and play at least one more season with the MoDo hockey team, as he has said he would.
"There is no bigger Peter Forsberg fan in the world than I am," Edmark said. "And here I am thousands of miles away from my hometown, only to hear about the coming season, not able to witness the return of Foppa, our King of Hockey. Instead, I will have to live vicariously through my sister, Lena, my parents Gunilla and Sune, and all my friends back home."
Bengt Hedin, MoDo's Sports Director and Defenseman Pierre Hedin's father said, "Not many in my position are fortunate enough to put the world’s best player on their roster," referring to Forsberg.
Tickets are already scarce in both "The Big O" and in other cities and towns where the MoDo hockey team will play this season.
Forsberg, Weinhandl, Hedin, Sundstrom and the Sedin brother's return is also destined to elevate the competitors in their league. In addition, it will inevitably be a boon for the "junior" players on the MoDo team.
Can you imagine being a teenage hockey player who gets to play an entire year with Peter Forsberg? Perhaps a few NHL careers will be launched this year, as all eyes will be on this coastal town of Sweden.
A Younger Peter Forsberg
In 1979, MoDo Hockey won the Elite League Championship. It was the one and only time the team received their country's coveted trophy. In 1994, MoDo played in the final with Forsberg as the star of their team but MoDo came up short. Since then, Forsberg has won every imaginable trophy from the 1992 World Championship gold medal, the 2004 World Championship silver medal, the 1994 Olympic Gold Medal and the 1996 Stanley Cup. He has also been crowned MVP of the NHL for his contribution in the 2002-03 season.
The only thing missing from his trophy case: The Elite League SM Gold.
People in Sweden appreciate the fact that Forsberg is returning not for the money but for the glory of sharing this prestigious trophy. If he and his team wins, it will be their way of "giving back" to all those who supported them over the years, the club, parents, fans and friends included.
Forsberg has been one of the most popular athletes in Sweden since he scored the winner in a penalty shootout against Canada to claim the 1994 Olympic title at Lillehammer, Norway. In nine NHL seasons he has averaged almost one assist per game, scoring 216 goals and 525 assists in 580 regular season games.
When he left MoDo hockey, he retired his number #21. Since he joined the NHL, his jersey has been on display at the MoDo hockey rink. Upon coming out of retirement from the league this past week, his shirt has been removed from the rafters, so that he may wear it once again. (As a center for the Colorado Avalanche, he also wore the #21.)
Starting next Thursday, our attention will surely be drawn to The Big O; at least those, like us, who love the game of hockey, and who are willing to admit that they walked through a forest in Ornskoldsvik last summer to catch a glimpse of Foppa's home by the river.
Another Big MoDo Hockey Fan
Meanwhile, fans like this one, a licorice salesman in Stockholm, will likely be moving back to his hometown of Ornskoldsvik to catch every possible MoDo Hockey game, this coming season. Perhaps those who go to a game will see him selling his candy near the Kempehallen rink.
In 2006, Edmark will at least have a new rink from which she can cheer. Two weeks ago, Forsberg announced that he will help finance a 6,500-seat hockey arena in the city, which will be MoDo's new home ice when it is completed. The new site will have an ocean view.
Do you suppose Northern Sweden can keep The King in town that long?
Congratulations Ornskoldsvik! You're one step closer to bringing home the gold.
Here's to healthy, adventuresome, soulful and return-to-your-roots living!
~ Jennifer King