Peter Forsberg needs no introduction, but we'll make one anyway. The best Swedish-born player to ever play the game of hockey was a passing wizard who was known for his vision and physical play. He currently stands 8th all time in career points-per-game and 5th all time in career assists-per-game in the National Hockey League. He is considered to be one of the greatest players of his generation.
Representing Sweden in international play, Forsberg competed in four Olympics, two World Cups and five World Championships, as well as two World Junior Championships and one European Junior Championship. Two Stanley Cups and four gold medals in his international career, having won titles at the 1992 and 1998 World Championships and the 1994 and 2006 Winter Olympics, make him a member of the Triple Gold Club and the only Swede who has won each of the three competitions twice.
The legendary Swedish star sat down with us for a lengthy exclusive interview.
We don't think many people sacrificed more to play the game. Numerous surgeries, rumors had you trying out more than 200 different pairs of skates to help accommodate a troubled foot – having already achieved so much, what pushed you to continue trying to get back?
'I don't know, I loved playing hockey. For some reason I thought I could fix the foot. It took a lot of surgeries and a lot of effort just to realize that I couldn't fix it. I really enjoyed playing and playing at the highest level – it was just a passion for the game. I took almost a year off in 2001, when I lost my spleen there and right before that I was a little bored of hockey, I thought it took too much of my time. I didn't have a lot of spare time, but then I was sitting out for a year and realized how much I missed it. That year made me realize that I was really fortunate to be able to play hockey and to play at the highest level.'
Looking at your playing days, what do you miss the most?
'I miss the feeling right after you win a game. That feeling with the guys in the locker room, a good feeling when you know you did your best and it was good enough, you can have a few days rest and just enjoy the win.'
You played in an era of hockey when concussions weren't paid attention to all that much and when, slashing, grabbing and hooking penalties were assessed differently than in today's game – what do you think you could have done in today's 'modern' NHL?
'It's hard to compare eras, I don't know if I could have had more points. Hockey has changed, everybody is in really good shape, the game is faster, I don't know if my game would fit there now. I couldn't really shoot the puck and I was carrying the puck – it was good for me because I think I was good at wrestling in the corners. I don't know if I could do more now, but... I think it's unfair to compare eras because the games has changed so much in the last 40-50 years.'
Peter Forsberg was touring the US trying to move the game times for NHL hockey on weekends, so more people in Europe could watch. Why was this so important to you?
'Well, I know how many people love watching the NHL, here in Sweden, too. They like to see the best players in the world and I just thought they could move one game out of 30 to an earlier start in the States so we could watch one game a day, a week during the year. I think it's good for the NHL because of how popular the league is becoming over here. All the kids are following the NHL teams and I thought it wasn't such a big deal for them (the NHL) to move one or two games a week because we do a lot for the NHL over here.'
Yeah, one would think that with more and more European players coming over to the NHL the league would try to do more to promote the game in Europe, maybe paying more games in Europe when starting the season but one gets the impression that Bettman is moving away from that, don't you?
'I don't know if they are going to do it next year, but I mean, I watched it last Saturday, 5 games that were broadcast from 19:00 in Sweden until 22:00 in Sweden so it's five day games in the States, so I thought that great, I was like – good work, they showed a lot. I don't think it's because of me, but I think it's good for the NHL that they're doing it.'
Let's talk a little bit about the KHL – with Jokerit coming in next season, are there whispers in Sweden about plans for some teams to join, too? MODO perhaps?
'No, I'm not really hearing those rumors in Sweden, there are rumors about a Norwegian team entering the KHL, but not a Swedish team at this moment. A couple of years ago there was talk about one or two teams maybe joining but right now it's pretty quiet. But I'm not really involved in those discussions and I'm not really close to the KHL to know what their plans are, but looking around, I see Prague and Zagreb, now Jokerit – they are expanding, so maybe, in the future there will be a KHL team in Sweden.'
Is there any hockey/political interest in Sweden to move a team to the KHL, or do people view the SEL as more of a home-grown type thing in terms of producing players?
'I don't know exactly, it's hard for me to answer that because I'm not that close to it. But I do know that with the Champions League they are trying to keep the Swedish league as is and promote the Champions League more. If you look at that and how they are trying to build that competition for Sweden it does look like they're trying to keep the teams here and be involved in the Champions League instead of the KHL.'
What does it mean to you to be running a hockey team with your childhood friend, Markus Naslund?
'Markus isn't going to be with the team next year, but these three years have been great. We kind of see hockey the same way and that's why I would say that these years were great. We had a few ups and downs, but I really enjoyed working with Markus, he's a great guy and he works really hard. I don't know where he's going to go from here but it has been great. I liked getting to know him again, you know, we played on two different teams, rival teams in Vancouver and Colorado, so it was hard to keep up and keep in touch. That's what makes these 3 years so great.'
Moving on to the Olympics, what did team Sweden do right, what did they do wrong?
'Hahah, I'm not going to go into what they did wrong, but I don't think they did a lot of things wrong. Obviously, it was a little bit tough when Nicklas (Backstrom) didn't get to play in the final but I do think that under the circumstances... I mean you had a lot of guys hurt, Zetterberg was hurt, Franzen, Henrik Sedin was missing, so I think Sweden did really well coming in second with the group of guys we had there. I don't think we did anything wrong, I don't think we played great, but we played well enough to win games. When you have a good goalie like Lundqvist you gain confidence and you only need to score a couple to win the game. I think for that team to win the silver medal, it was a very good achievement. Canada had an outstanding team, so they're hard to beat.'
Was it wrong to have Canadian officials (Kelly Sutherland, Derek Amell and Greg Devorski) call the gold medal game involving Canada?
'Well, I think it's just putting them in a bad position. I'm not saying that they are bad referees or anything like that, they might be the best, but you're putting them in a position that say, with 30 seconds left, is it a penalty shot or not? Did he call a penalty? When you have somebody from the same country as the one team in the finals call that game, I think it invites conspiracy theories. I think all other sports are trying to distance themselves from such controversy, if you look at swimming or whatever. I thought it was weird that 7 out of 8 guys were either from the United States or Canada – I thought it was a joke, actually. Again, I'm not saying they are bad referees, but it also diminished other referees. I mean, how bad did they become when they weren't even close to calling the final? I thought it was very suspect, which also put them, the referees, in a bad position. When you have referees from the same country that's playing in the final, it could never be a winning situation.'
Sweden continues to produce elite level players, in your mind, who is the next Swedish player that will turn some heads? I'm not talking about Oliver Ekman-Larssons but rather, developing prospects still in Sweden.
'We have a kid called William Nylander, he's got a lot of skill. If he gains a few pounds and becomes a little bit faster I think he's going to be really good. He has amazing hands and skill and if he keeps developing like he has... he's taken some huge leaps from the beginning of the year... I think he's going to be just fine.'
You won your first ever gold medal in Lillehammer in '94, when you put 'The Forsberg' on Corey Hirsch in the finals – which took some guts. Was the move planned or reactionary?
'That was actually planned. I practiced the move a little bit prior to that, by myself, on the forehand too, you can actually see it on the American broadcast. You know, I was really bad at penalty shots and really only had one move and did it in the round robin so I had nothing else to do except that. I also watched Corey's penalty shots and I figured if he was coming out a long way, that move was going to work. I kinda stole it from Kent Nilsson so I hope he's ok with that.'
But it's known as 'The Forsberg', not as 'The Nilsson' so he might be a little mad about that?
'Well, maybe in North America, but Kent did it in '89 I think, in the World Championship against John Vanbiesbrouck. That's where I learned it.'
Best player you ever played with – was it Joe Sakic or somebody else?
'You know, I played with a lot of good players, but Joe was definitely up there, he had everything, he was fast, he had a heart for the game. He never took a night off and had an unbelievable shot. I played with him for a long time so if I had to name somebody, it's him. But I've played with Markus Naslund and I've played for the national teams with Lidstrom and Sundin and a few more guys too, so it's hard to say but because I played with Joe for almost 10 years, I can say that he was an outstanding player.'
You were part of some bloody battles with the Detroit Red Wings during your time in Colorado, what's your stance on fighting in hockey?
'It has been a part of the game for a really long time, and... I don't know, I think it's part of the game. As long as guys respect each other. And they do, guys in the NHL respect each other, especially if they get somebody down or hit them hard. It's not like we're trying to kill each other. It's getting attention, but I think it's part of the game.'
Watching you at times, you were downright scary to play against, quite literally. I'll always remember your icy stare directed at opponents – was there anyone who scared you?
'I played against a lot of big defensemen but Donald Brashear, he was heavy you know, when he hit, he was tough. I played against Derian Hatcher who played for Dallas in the 1990s and early 2000, he was big and could move back then and he was mean. There are a few guys I could name and I absolutely have respect for them.'
Do you remember that epic comeback the Avalanche had against the Panthers, with the 7-5 comeback win? We think it's one of the greatest individual performances seen in the NHL – could you give us your comment on that game?
'Yeah, we were down 5-0, then we scored to make it 5-1 and the end of the second and kept on rolling. Sometimes it just happens, their team fell apart. I remember Pavel Bure scoring a hattrick and then he had to leave the game in the middle of the second period. We came back and I think they lost all of their confidence. I think I ended up with 6 points in 20 minutes so that was pretty good. Like I said, I got to play with Joe that game and sometimes it happens. I've played a lot of games and it never happened again, but it was one of those games when everything went in.'
Do you still keep track of what's going on with the Avalanche?
'Yes, of course I do.'
So, do you like the direction they're heading towards under Patrick Roy?
'Absolutely. They have been down for a couple of years, drafting high and now they're seeing the results. They have some great young guys, such as Landeskog who's a good captain and a good leader and Nathan MacKinnon coming in and playing awesome this year as a rookie and then there's Duchene getting some help now.'
Do you still speak to Patrick often?
In your mind, how much has he helped the young guys on that team, him being a prototypical players' coach? We at KHL.hr feel that his emotion is a big part of why that team is so good, do you agree?
'I think so too, you know he came in, it was probably the right time, too, with all these young guys. I played with Patrick and there wasn't anybody who cared more about hockey than him and I think that spread around the entire organization now. He didn't accept losing then, he doesn't accept it now. He's always involved, thinking about how he could make the team better – that's what he did when he was playing, too. He always thought about how he was going to play the next game but most of all, he did not accept losing. His enthusiasm is spreading throughout the whole city now. I watched him on the bench and you can tell he's involved, he's ready to give everything to that team and the team is responding well.'