Peter Forsberg. If you’re a hockey fan, that name - all by itself - just elicited a response. Did the corners of your mouth turn up a little? Did you shake your head ever so slightly?
Peter Forsberg is making a comeback. Now the response just became emotional. Fist pump? Rolling eyes? Quickened heart rate? Deep sigh? Yelling out loud, "YES!" or grumbling to yourself, "Not this again?"
No other hockey player in recent history creates such polarized reactions as Forsberg. Of course, mention the name Joe Sakic or Bobby Orr, Ron Hextall or Wayne Gretzy, Sydney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, and you’ll get a response. Some people will fall right into worship mode, others will argue why they’re not as good as people claim, and still others will simply acknowledge their place in hockey history. Even controversial guys like Claude Lemieux and Todd Bertuzzi will have some people shrugging them off.
But no hockey fan - even fair-weathered bandwaggoners - shrugs at the name Peter Forsberg. Perhaps it’s because he was such a dynamic player to watch, rivaling any that came before him or since on the excitement scale. Maybe it’s because his unbelievable talent was tragically undermined by injuries, robbing fans of that excitement. It could even be that his on-ice "performances" drew the ire of opposing teams’ fans and hockey purists alike. Most likely, though, it’s because this saga of "Will he?" or "Won’t he?" has been resurfacing for years. Hopes elevated; hopes dashed.
With the recent news that Forsberg has begun practicing with the Colorado Avalanche, the hockey world is buzzing with those polarized reactions. There are people, like me, who are giddy like a 6-year-old kid with a mountain of birthday presents in front of him or her. The others, like Slam Dunk the Funk, are as annoyed as a commuter stuck on the freeway at rush hour. Why do we feel that way?
Yes, we've heard it all before. No, there's no guarantee it will happen. Chances are, based on past experiences, that we will be disappointed once again. And? The idea of Forsberg playing another year in the NHL is too amazing to just wave aside with "I'll believe it when I see it" nonchalance.
The first time I ever sat on the glass at a hockey game was during Forsberg's last stint with the Avs. I had little money and no one to join me, but I knew it might be my last chance to see him play. Living in Southern California, I only got a handful of games to watch the Avs live each year. So I took some cash, got a ticket off a scalper, and grinned all night long because in the first few minutes, I got to see Forsberg - in all his strength and fierceness - battling for the puck just feet in front of me. Later on, I got to see the infamous passing and hard work around the net. Before the night was through, I saw up close his stunning offensive power. It was like magic, watching him, and it's a feeling yet to be surpassed as the best hockey moment of my life. I don't even remember if the Avs won that night; it didn't matter. All that mattered was that experience.
That's what Forsberg brings to people. There are a lot of special players in the NHL, but there's just something about Foppa that is magnetic. He draws people in with his incredible skills and his engaging personality. He also inspires trust because he's been honest with his fans about his ongoing problems, refusing to play unless he was 100%. I believe he would not be here if he didn't truly think he can make it this time. There's a sparkle in his eyes that has long been absent. There's a positive energy about him that I haven't seen in years. And after watching him skate at practice, I see a confidence in him that hearkens back to the days before any of this nonsense about feet even started.
Whether or not he'll actually play an NHL game again doesn't really make a difference with how thrilled I am that he's here. He's skating with the team. My favorite player is engaging in full practices with my favorite team once again. The wealth of knowledge he brings to those practices is only going to make the team better. His presence is only going to inject positive energy into the locker room. The love that he has for the game - and the tremendous obstacles he's gone through to get back into it - will only inspire the young players around him. Why not get excited about that?
Sure, its a long shot that he'll be healthy enough to play again, and even then, he may not play for the Avalanche. But what if he is? And what if he does? It's the "what ifs" that make the future so enthralling. So I'm going to allow myself to ponder the "what ifs" about Peter Forsberg. I'd much rather enjoy this time and be disappointed than lament it throughout. Besides, maybe I won't be disappointed at all; maybe the what ifs will actually happen.
Not to Foppa
Why do I hate Peter Forsberg?
I don’t. I’m an Avalanche fan raised on the Holy Triumvirate of Sakic, Roy, and Forsberg. Before my ex-girlfriend burned it, I had a framed poster of Peter Forsberg that said "ICEBERG." He was my dad’s favorite player. The man is one of the legends of my lifetime.
Why can’t I get excited about him practicing with the team?
"We’re talkin about practice, man." If I get excited about this and he spends two weeks skating around with the team and decides, "Yo dog, I ain’t feelin’ so hip to roll out, Optimus," I’m going to be pissed. I’m going to be hurt. I’ve been through enough dark tunnels of life to know a dead end when I see one. I know all about setting myself up for failure and right now, I’m just not in the mood to deal with it. Had the news been "Forsberg signs with Avs," my feelings would be very, very different. What kind of Avalanche fan doesn’t get stoked about Forsberg being on the team?
But as of right now, he isn’t on the team. He’s still in limbo, which means we’re still in limbo. I hate limbo. Ridiculous activity. If you want fun, try out Transformers: War for Cybertron on the PC. Limbo sucks. Based on his press conference Saturday morning, if he’s healthy, he’s Duchene’s new LW. Until then, a 37-year-old power forward made of glass that hasn’t played competitively on the world’s highest stage in 2 seasons is not somebody I’m going to be thinking about. Our entire defense is about as effective as the anti-flood measures in New Orleans pre-Katrina. We have a serious goaltending crisis on our hands. The potential impact of a Forsberg return isn’t going to magically fix that. "Oh my god, it’s Peter Forsberg" won’t make Matt Hunwick good at the game of hockey.
Say 2 weeks pass and he doesn’t sign. All the RAHRAHRAH anticipation of his potential return has turned into a drawn out saga of "Will he or won’t he?" Exactly what ‘positive vibe’ would that be providing? Where do we draw the line as a fanbase from "Yeah, I’m cool with being patient" to "Screw this, I’m sick of being strung along?" It seems to be popular opinion that his presence is going to provide a fresh tune to a team desperately in need of a song change.
What if it isn’t? The longer this goes on, the worse this is for everybody involved. I sincerely hope this article goes up and every single word I say is invalidated 20 minutes later by an announcement saying if he’s signing or not but we know it won’t happen. We’re looking at likely 2 weeks, minimum, of this circus. Sigh.
Forsberg is going to do what is best for him and his body. My approach is going to continue operating under the impression he doesn’t exist in AvalancheLand right now because until he hits the ice with the A on his chest and 2 points on the line, he doesn’t. He’s a guy trying to figure out his hockey mortality. I’m a fan trying to figure out how this team is going to navigate the absurdly competitive Western Conference ladder. When those worlds actually collide, then you’ll see me get excited.
Whichever side that you find yourself, the idea of Forsberg playing again has got you thinking...and talking...and feeling. Until he retires - and even beyond that - Peter the Great will create conversation, which is often heated. The best part, though, is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re the 6-year-old or the commuter, your reactions are drawing attention to the sport we all love, and that’s never a bad thing.
Peter Forsberg. It just happened again, didn’t it?