To celebrate our move to a new domain with a new profile, Chicken Swedes latest sports profile is one of the men who wiped away the title “Chicken Swedes” from the NHL: defenseman Börje Salming. This was a time before swedes like Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson was a common sight in North American hockey.
Börje Salming was born in Kiruna in northern Sweden 1951. His father was of Sami origin and his mother Swedish. When Börje was 5 years old his father died in a mining accident. He grew up with his older brother, Stig Salming, and started playing hockey just like him. Stig was a hard-hitting defenseman, playing for many years in the Swedish top league and national team. This probably had an influence on Börjes later success in the National Hockey League.
Salming first played for his home-town team Kiruna AIF in Swedish division 2 1967-1970. Then he took the step up to the highest division and played with Brynäs 1970-1973. Brynäs won the league 1971 and 1973 with Salming in the squad. 1973 he was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent together with an other swede, Inge Hammarström. This was in a time when Europeans wasn’t common in the brutal National Hockey League. As Salming stated in an interview later:
It was tough because they really tried to kill you.
This was probably the reason his biography is called “Blood, sweat and hockey”.
The Toronto years
The debut in Toronto was at the beginning of the 1973-74 season against Buffalo Sabres. In the opening night the Swedish ambassaduer dropped the first ceremonial puck at the face-off. This was the start of the European invasion the to NHL. Salming scored 39 points in his first season. He would play in Toronto for 16 years, his last season was 1988-89. Before he came back to Sweden he did one season for the Detroit Red Wings 1989-90. During the years in Toronto he played 1099 games for the club and became a crowd’s favourite with the nickname “The King”. He is the highest scoring defenseman in the club’s history and the overall leader in assists. In 1986 he got another, more odd record: Stitches. 200 stitches at once after getting a skate in the face during a game against Detroit. He made the NHL’s first all-star team in 1977 and the second all-star team in 1975, 76, 78, 79, 80.
Back in Sweden
Back in his native country Salming played for the Stockholm-based club AIK for three seasons before retiring 1993, 42 years old.
The National team
Salming was a common sight in the Swedish national team Tre Kronor. In the World Championships he won one silver medal 1973 (and also made the All-star team) and one bronze in 1972. In the 1976 Canada Cup in Toronto he got standing ovations for a long time before a game against the USA.
In 1996 Börje Salming became the first Swedish player elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ten years later his jersey with number 21 got raised in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He also became a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998. Since his retirement he has his own brand of sporting goods, underwear and floorball sticks.
In 1976 a Swedish five-year old kid named Mats Sundin watched the Canada Cup together with his father. He saw a countryman being cheered at in an other country, forever imprinting him with the idea of a sport independent of nations. This was the start of another great moment in the Toronto Maple Leaf’s history.