One on One with Borje Salming
During a phenomenal career that spanned seventeen NHL seasons, Borje Salming
earned the respect of teammates and foes alike, and garnered a reputation as one of the finest defensemen of his
...Borje Salming was born on April 17, 1951 in Kiruna, the most northerly city in Sweden.His
father, Erland, worked in the city's iron mines."There wasn't much money," admits Borje
taught me not with words but by example," smiles Borje
was just five and sent, alone, to live with his
grandparents in Murjek, a whistle-stop on the railway line from Stockholm to Kiruna.The youngster moved back home with his
mother and brother not too long afterwards.
and Stig often scraped the rink's ice before climbing over the boards to play.
passion thus fuelled, Borje
played the game with remarkable enthusiasm, and advanced rapidly through Kiruna's hockey ranks."It was great to be in the midst of the action, throwing myself back and forth to stop the puck," he
explains.That style afforded Borje
well through his
Following his brother south to play in the Swedish Elite League
with Brynas, a team located just outside Stockholm in Gavle, Borje
signed with the team in April 1970 and lived briefly with Stig and his wife before finding a residence of his own.
The Swedish national team summoned Borje
to man their defense during this time.In the midst of the Summit Series in September 1972, Team Canada followed its four Canadian games with two exhibition matches in Sweden against Tre Kronor before heading off to Moscow to conclude the series."I had never dreamed of playing against them (NHL players)," he
and Hammarstrom were flown to Toronto, with the Maple Leafs
hoping they'd impress the young men with the city, team and money enough that the Swedes would soon wear the Leafs' blue and white.
"I told myself not to be impressed, that I was dealing with flesh and blood people just like me," Salming
head."There were a lot of taunts of 'Chicken Swede.' There were threats to kill me.I heard every bad word there is.In Philadelphia, you would even have to stay away from the boards because they would try to grab you and yell at you." Salming
stood up to the challenges."In this league (NHL), they try to discourage you early.I got the treatment and so does every rookie.If you fight back, they'll eventually leave you alone and let you play hockey."Borje
collected a respectable 39 points and at the end of the season, was chosen as Toronto's winner of the inaugural Molson Cup based on accumulating the most Three Star selections through the course of the season.
"My first year, I played very defensively, but after that first season, I was able to be more offensive-minded," Salming states.The statistics bore through.As a sophomore in 1974-75, Borje
scored 12 goals, up from his
5 rookie markers, and was elected to the NHL's
Second All-Star Team.In 1975-76, he
scored 16 times and his
point production leapt to 57.Again, he
was named to the Second All-Star Team.Borje
enjoyed a career campaign in 1976-77, finishing with 78 points and earning First All-Star Team status.Very quickly, Salming
had established himself as one of the NHL's premier blueliners."Borje
was a once-in-a-lifetime find," said McNamara in a late-seventies' interview . "Here is a player you can mention in the same sentence with Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Larry Robinson when you're talking about the great defensemen of the modern era."
Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming
emerged as the team's leaders and the two pingponged back and forth as the team's Molson Cup recipient.
took the award in 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1980 while Sittler won in 1975, 1976, 1979 and 1981.
As the team twisted and turned in the wind, Salming
continued to deliver outstanding work from his
blueline spot.Teams, hoping to pluck the little remaining meat from a well-weathered carcass, hoped to pick up Salming
in a trade, but Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard claimed he
In 1982, Salming
was recipient of the now-defunct Charlie Conacher Memorial Trophy for humanitarian contributions and public service.But the tides turned through the eighties.In 1983-84, Borje
kneecap.In May of 1986, as Sports Illustrated
was about to print a story about Salming's
alleged cocaine use, the defenseman stepped forward and admitted that, in the past, he
had indeed briefly experimented socially with the drug.Although Borje
was lauded for his
was suspended for eight games to start the 1986-87 season."I was the only one to come forward about it, so I was the one example," Salming shrugs."I have no regrets and I have nothing against (then-NHL president ) John Ziegler." Upon his return, Borje was involved in a goalmouth scramble that saw the skate of the Red Wings' Gerard Gallant accidentally catch him in the face and carve his features for a gruesome 250 stitches.
came back, committed and effective, and continued his
effective play after receiving the brutal injury.
Trade rumours continued to swirl naming Salming
at the base of deals involving several different teams.
But Ballard hoped to be able to allow Salming
the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup before his career had concluded.
A rumour circulated that Ballard had attempted to loan Borje
to the Edmonton Oilers for a mid-eighties playoff run, but the NHL
quickly squashed those thoughts.
, all the while, was resolute in his
intentions."If I do get to play on a (Stanley Cup) winner, I want it to be in Toronto."
Finally, during the summer of 1989 and after 16 superb seasons, Borje's career with the Maple Leafs
came to an end.He
left holding several team marks , most assists by a member of the Maple Leafs
, most goals by a Leaf defenseman, most points by a defenseman with the Leafs
, third most games played as a Leaf (behind George Armstrong and Tim Horton) and third most points as a Leaf (behind Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon)."I enjoyed every minute of it," beams Borje
."We had a lot of fun and crazy times." For 1989-90, Borje Salming signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings.
...Borje shrugged at the announcement that he'd be joining the Red Wings.
"Instead of blue and white it'll be red and white, but that's life and life has to go on.I'll go to them and give them everything I've got, just like I did in Toronto.That's my way of playing."Salming
added a measure of leadership and stability to Detroit's young blueline.
At the end of that season, Borje
retired from the National Hockey League
but continued his
professional hockey career back home in Sweden.Shortly after competing for Sweden at the Olympics in 1992, Borje Salming
The statistics lead to an inevitable conclusion: a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame
played 1,148 regular season NHL games, scoring 150 goals and adding 637 assists for 787 points.He
also collected 1,344 penalty minutes.Borje
was a First Team All-Star once and a Second Team selection five times.Twice he
was runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.Salming also served his
homeland with distinction, representing Sweden three times at the World Cup championships and was named an all-star at the 1989 tournament.He
played for Sweden in three Canada Cup series as well and was selected as an all-star in 1976.In 1996, Borje
Salming was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame
, joining Bobby Bauer in the Veterans Category and Builder Al Arbour.
was the first Swede to be so honoured and was just the second European-trained player in the Hall of Fame, following Soviet-born Vladislav Tretiak.
To this day, Borje
Salming is one of the most popular Toronto players; a Maple Leaf forever, if you will."I'm always warmly welcomed in the Leafs
dressing room.For me, Toronto is my second hometown and the Mecca of hockey."
hockey career, Borje
stretched into other business ventures, including underwear."It wasn't my idea," he
laughs."Some advertising guy came up to me back in 1992 with the concept.I had just moved back here (Sweden) from Toronto and was playing in the Swedish league for AIK
at the time.I looked at the guy and said, 'Why underwear?' The more I looked at it, the more I discovered it was not such a bad idea." Borje
is also part-owner of Salming Sports
(www.salmingsports.com), a company that is making aggressive and outstanding inroads in the competitive North American sporting goods market.