Passion made Forsberg great winner

The foot never did get better. The injury was never really completely diagnosed and is not back to 100 percent, but it doesn't bother Peter Forsberg the businessman much. He can easily walk up the stairs to his office in downtown Stockholm, pick up his newborn from the stroller or even suit up for a charity game with Icebreakers, a team he and friend Markus Näslund started 12 years ago to raise money for charity.

And today, that's more than enough for him. His different businesses are rolling, Icebreakers is raising money, and, as any father knows, two small kids sure keep one busy.

Peter Forsberg

Peter Forsberg

Nordiques, Avalanche, Flyers, Predators


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It sounds a little slow for a man who's won the Stanley Cup twice, the Calder, the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy, as well as two world championship gold medals, two Olympic gold medals; a man who was operated on more than 20 times over the course of chasing those titles and all the rest he wanted to win.

That's what we remember about him, because that's how it ended. One man's desperate attempts to get back into the game he loved the most. The irony, if there is one, is that he says he was at his best just as his problems with the foot began. In 2003, Forsberg -- by then already a member of the Triple Gold Club almost twice over -- won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer and the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. He had passed his childhood friend Näslund in the scoring race in the last regular season game in which he scored one goal and picked up two assists, beating Näslund by two points.

It's almost too good a story to be true, those kids from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, born 10 days apart, coming up through the junior ranks, ending up at the top of the NHL scoring race. One had to finish second, of course, and by 2003, a betting man would have gone all in for Forsberg.

Forsberg wasn't used to losing at anything. Everybody knew that look on his face, those eyes that weren't black like Rocket Richard's but burning just the same.

"His will is what made him the player he became, and took him to the top. When those eyes get turned on, you know it's game time," said Roger Hansson, who played with Forsberg on the 1992 world championship team and the 1994 gold-winning Olympic team, and against him in the 1994 Swedish final -- which Forsberg lost.

"The first [thought] that comes to mind when I think of Peter is his killer instinct, his will to win," Näslund said. "He's always wanted to win games and be the best, and that's always been there.

"He was also never afraid to try doing things in a new way, and he didn't get nervous ahead of big moments. He's always been able to play at his level, whether it's been street hockey or a Stanley Cup final. Where others feel pressure, he sees opportunity."

That's why he could pull off that crazy shootout move in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. He had already beat Corey Hirsch with a traditional backhander on the glove side once, so he decided to try something new. It wasn't improvised, he had worked on the move, but very few players would decide to do that when an Olympic gold is on the line.

"My shot is so bad, I had to do something else," said a 20-year-old Forsberg after the game.

He still maintains his shot was really bad and that he wasn't really that strong, either.

As a kid, he loved sports. He played hockey and soccer, and loved crosscountry skiing, so he burned a lot of energy, but he was shortish and skinny.

"I really didn't eat anything, no meat, not fish. Instead, I ate cinnamon buns when I got home from school. The rule was three buns tops, never four," Forsberg said, laughing at the memory.

"Later on, I'd ride my bike home and eat pancakes Mom had made and put in the freezer. I didn't start to eat properly until high school."

In high school, Mom's pancakes took a backseat, and the fierce competition within the group -- it was a special hockey school -- turned the lumps of coal into diamonds. Everything became a competition. The boys practiced 20 hours a week in the school and for their Modo club team, and they added some personal workouts during each free period at school.

"I'd much rather do my workouts with somebody, so I was really lucky to have a great buddy then," Forsberg said. "It was Markus who drove us, he was so conscientious, didn't drink, everything was about hockey.

"I had to push myself to do weights and, even during my years in the NHL, I had a buddy who'd meet me for practice. I was mostly looking forward to our pingpong games before we'd work out. Seven sets, always."

He already had the most important thing, the will to be a winner, and once he put on muscle and grew, he could start to take over games in more ways than one. His district team had won the annual tournament for select teams in Sweden, he made his Elite league debut at 17, and he won his first world championship at 18, then the Olympic gold at 20.

And when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996, Forsberg, who had won the Calder Trophy the previous season, was seven weeks shy of his 23rd birthday.

"Winning those three titles was fantastic, of course, but the fourth one was also so close, since we went all the way to the Swedish final with Modo, too," Forsberg said, highlighting the one title he never did win.

"I didn't reflect on how things were going, things just kept on rolling. We won another World Championship in 1998, then the Stanley Cup in 2001. Then I didn't win anything for another five years, and maybe things would have been different had I stayed healthy, and after that, I didn't contribute much to the winning, I just showed up. Such fantastic luck."

Luck is a relative term. After all, by 2002, Forsberg had already suffered a shoulder injury, broken ribs, two concussions and a ruptured spleen, which made him miss the entire regular season in 2001-02. His foot problems had also begun, and he had several operations trying to fix things.

Of course, he had won the playoffs scoring title in 2002, having returned to the game without playing a single game in the regular season. And he played the last two games of the playoffs with a broken finger.

And then: the 2002-03 season.

"I played with Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay and it really felt like we were better than everybody else," Forsberg said. "I think our line was plus-52. I switched skates after 10 games, and the last 60 of the season were my best time in the NHL.

"Before that, I had been up and down, I had trouble with my groins and the spleen, problems with my skates all the time. I was at my best just before things went sideways."

Between 2006 and 2011, he played only 68 regular season games in the NHL, and another 12 postseason games, all the while trying to find a way to fix his feet and find skates that would help him.

"It was fascinating to see how far he was willing to go, with all the operations, even though he had already won everything," said Näslund. "He just wanted to play hockey, it was the best thing he knew. And that's what made him so great.

"It was obvious that he was suffering, and it turned into a vicious circle when he couldn't work out in the summer, and only did rehab," said Niklas Sundström, the third player on the line when Forsberg scored 31 points in seven games at the world juniors in 1993. "We all saw how much he tried when he came back to Modo. He was steamrolling the young players, and I though it was a great sign."

In the early 1990s, the kid from Örnsköldsvik had been one of those young players trying to steamroll his idol, Håkan Loob.

"That was his take-no-prisoners attitude, he wanted to show us old guys that we weren't going to get anything for free," Loob said. "When I met him after the game, there was that kid, looking down, real shy."

Forsberg explained: "I was a completely other person on the ice. My winning instinct took over completely. I was the nicest guy, and wouldn't say a word to the referees outside the rink, but could be screaming at them after five minutes of play. I didn't care if there were 13,000 people in the stands. All I cared about was winning."

It's still hard for him to control his drive when he plays soccer games for charity or floor hockey with other students at the Stockholm School of Economics IFL Executive Education, where he graduated with a special management diploma for athletes two years ago.

"It doesn't happen often, but I guess it's not very mature of me," he said, grinning.

The drive to succeed is now directed at his numerous businesses -- and Modo, where he's now the assistant GM.

"My fiancé wonders if our Saturdays have to be affected by Modo's games, but ... I'm not happy if they lose," Forsberg said. "These days, I like coming to the office, and I'm not a lone wolf, I want to have fun with a team.

"And I wouldn't change a thing about my career. I got to meet interesting people, made great friends, and had a lot of success. One of my best friends, Adam Deadmarsh, had to retire at 27 due to concussions but I've had no problems after I retired, so I was really lucky."