For Sweden, he's Forsberg in name only

Sweden's Peter Forsberg looks to pass puck against Belarus yesterday.
Sweden's Peter Forsberg looks to pass puck against Belarus yesterday.
Posted: February 20, 2010

VANCOUVER - Peter Forsberg glided down the right side, anticipating the pass. He wasn't charging like his former locomotive self, but he was in the right place at the right time, just to the right of the goal, his team leading by one late in the game, poised to put the game away.

The pass came. It hit Forsberg's stick. He could not control it. It bounced away, harmlessly.

After two Olympic preliminary games, the Swedish legend is proving what he's been telling everyone since he left the NHL in 2007: He isn't anywhere near the player who carried the Colorado Avalanche for nearly a decade.

"I've been playing OK, until I get close to the net," Forsberg said.

He is pointless in two games this Olympics. He has just two shots. Both came in the first period yesterday in a 4-2 win over Belarus.

Forsberg has accepted his fate. The Flyers picked him sixth overall in 1991 and made him the centerpiece of the fateful Eric Lindros trade with Quebec. Forsberg proceeded to win two Stanley Cups with that franchise, developing into the player Lindros was supposed to become.

Now, 3 years removed from the NHL, beset by a chronic, congenital foot issues, he is more figurehead than power forward.

"I'm 36," he said. "I don't think it's going be too much better."

Which means he isn't even thinking about returning to the NHL.

"Not really. We'll see what happens. I'm not shutting any doors," he said, but reflected on the pain and the rehab and the uncertainty of the past 7 years: "If I knew the script in 2003, I would have retired back then."

Forsberg did not play a full NHL season after 2002-03.

Forsberg is, symbolically, playing on the Swedes' first line, but he's getting fourth-line ice time. He was elected to carry the flag for the Swedes in opening ceremonies, an homage to a hero, not a nod to a leader. He's not even an assistant captain. But he's here.

"That says a lot about what kind of person he's been," said Daniel Sedin after yesterday's game.

So does the fact that Forsberg has fought so hard and so long to still skate, even if only part time, with MoDo in the Swedish Elite League on a shrunken rink with smaller players.

"I was scared coming here," Forsberg admitted. "It's smaller ice. Definitely, guys are bigger and better here. I'm glad I got two games behind me, playing the good teams."

Forsberg was equally unremarkable in the Swedes' opener, a 2-0 win over Germany on Wednesday.

If this writes the final chapter for Forsberg, it fits.

After securing gold at the 1992 World Cup, Forsberg introduced himself to the world when he spurred Sweden to gold in 1994 at Lillehammer, the last Olympics without NHL players. He teased the world in 2006, when he helped the Swedes win at Turin.

In between, he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2003, the Stanley Cups, another World Championship – and fought through a litany of injuries, worst among them foot and ankle problems that have required multiple surgeries.

This, certainly, will be his Olympic farewell. If he doesn't score any points, he can at least can supply inspiration, sagacity and honesty, as he did yesterday.

"I think we were a little scared of them before the game, because of what happened a couple of years ago," he said, referring to Belarus' upset of the Swedes in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

Burdened by age and outmanned by Russia and Canada, it would be an upset, Forsberg allowed, if the Swedes won here. It would be amazing, he said, if he was a big part of it.

"I'm just happy to be here. If I get to play the fourth line, it doesn't really matter to me," Forsberg said. "To be honest, I'd rather be at my prime."

Wouldn't we all.

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