Börje Salming, Maple Leafs legend, dead at 71 after ALS battle

Maple Leafs legend and European hockey icon Börje Salming has died, the team announced in a statement on Thursday. He was 71.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Börje Salming,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “Börje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned toughness. He helped open the door for Europeans in the NHL and defined himself through his play on the ice and through his contributions to the community.

“Börje joined the Maple Leafs 50 years ago and will forever be a part of our hockey family. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Pia, his children Theresa, Anders, Rasmua, Bianca, Lisa and Sara, and his brother Stieg.”

Just two weeks ago, Salming — who was diagnosed with ALS in July — was honored with an emotional ceremony at Scotiabank Arena, participating in a ceremonial puck drop with Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe starting a lineup featuring six Swedish players. Salming could not speak, a product of the disease.

Borje Salming playing for the Maple Leafs in 1979.
Borje Salming playing for the Maple Leafs in 1979.
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“Nobody will ever forget this moment, this game, this night,” Darryl Sittler, another Leafs Hall of Famer, said, per NHL.com. “This is what Börje wanted. Even months ago, after he was diagnosed, he told us he wanted to be here for Hall of Fame weekend. And here he is.

“To be here standing beside him tonight was a special evening that I’ll always remember. And I believe hockey fans will, too.”

Salming, the first Swedish player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, is the Leafs’ franchise record holder for assists. 

Borje Salming at Maple Leafs ceremony on Nov. 11, 2022.
Borje Salming at Maple Leafs ceremony on Nov. 11, 2022.

Borje Salming at Maple Leafs ceremony on Nov. 11, 2022.
Borje Salming at Maple Leafs ceremony on Nov. 11, 2022.

When Salming first came to the NHL, Swedes were largely considered soft and unworthy to play North American hockey. Salming, in the face of relentless cheap shots, took a hammer to that reputation.

“You think of the Maple Leafs,” Keefe told reporters two weeks ago, “you think of him.”