The typically stoic Peter Forsberg was quite emotional as he announced he was stepping away from hockey because of a bothersome right foot that left him vulnerable on the ice.
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Flanked by his fiancee, Forsberg choked up several times Monday as he pulled the plug on his latest comeback attempt after playing in just two games with the Colorado Avalanche.
He acknowledged he’s through with the game, saying he ”can’t do it anymore.” He leaves with no regrets, despite feeling ”like a little kid that had candy stolen from.”
The former NHL MVP has been plagued by a chronic foot ailment since 2003, robbing him of chunks of his career.
After an initial visa delay, Forsberg played in two road games with Colorado, scoring no points, before retiring.
His teammates were caught off guard by his decision. Captain Adam Foote even had a long chat with Forsberg on the plane ride home and never once did the Swedish star give an inkling that his bothersome right foot might be acting up again.
"I’m surprised because of the way he played. I thought he played really good," Foote said of his longtime teammate, who was a minus-4 in more than 35 minutes of ice time during the two-game stint. "But I don’t know how his foot feels. He can only tell us that. Obviously, he thinks after the two games he’s not going to be able to help us moving forward.
"As far as me selfishly, I want to say, ‘Yeah, you can help us. I saw the way you played.’ But if his foot is that bad and hurting him, that’s a problem I can’t fix or he probably can’t fix. That’s got to be frustrating for him."
Just one week ago, Forsberg signed a $1 million deal to play the rest of the season for the team he helped lead to two Stanley Cup titles.
Forsberg was arguably the best two-way player in the NHL during his prime, helping the Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001, and earning the league MVP in 2003.
He started having problems with his foot over the next few years and ended up going back to his native Sweden after appearing in nine regular-season games and seven postseason games in 2007-08. Forsberg played for his hometown club MoDo the past couple of years and his foot held up enough that he decided to give the NHL another shot.
After his immigration issues were cleared up, Forsberg played in games at Columbus and Nashville, both losses. Monday was supposed to mark his debut at home, where he remains a crowd favorite, his No. 21 sweater still one of the most popular in the stands.
"The type of guy he is, if he knows he can’t play at what he’s capable of, I don’t think he wants to go out there and force an issue," center Paul Stastny said. "He made a good comeback. … To give it a shot and try to come back speaks volumes of his character."
Forsberg spent nearly a decade with the Avalanche before heading to Philadelphia following the NHL lockout in 2004-05. He donned a Flyers jersey for 1 1/2 seasons before being dealt to Nashville.
Forsberg returned to Denver late in 2007-08, but was limited in the regular season because of a nagging groin injury.
But it’s his troublesome right foot that’s given him the most grief, robbing him of chunks of his career and possibly his rightful place among the best to have ever laced up the skates.
Not in the eyes of his teammates, though.
"He’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game," Milan Hejduk said. "That’s the legacy, how he will go down in the books."
Forsberg was never one to back down from an encounter. He took a lot of hard checks over his career.
He gave back plenty in return as well.
That style of play took its toll on his body, yet made him the player he was – a feared skater for his physical play and his deft scoring touch.
"He was one of those tough Europeans that wouldn’t let anything get to him," Stastny explained. "He would stand up for himself. That’s what I’ll remember about him, and how skilled he was and how dominant he was for the 10 or 11 full years he played."
All-Star Matt Duchene grew up in Canada with pictures of the player known as "Foppa" on his bedroom walls. He patterned his game after Forsberg, with a little Joe Sakic – another of his boyhood idols – sprinkled in for good measure.
"Nobody should be disappointed in him or upset. He gave it a good try," Duchene said. "It’s sad that a great career like that is over.
"But at the same time, what a career it was. He did a lot for a lot of people, including myself."