It has been nearly 50 years since Borje Salming first captured the hearts of Maple Leaf fans, surviving a rough NHL introduction to forge a two decade career.
Now, in the battle of his life with debilitating ALS, he needs to feel his love and support more than ever. Starting with Friday’s Hall of Fame Game to begin induction weekend, that was already the vibe around Scotiabank Arena.
It was hoped, health permitting, the pioneer defenseman would be recognized during the match against Pittsburgh. That’s among other tributes when the Leafs play Vancouver on Saturday, right up to Monday’s ceremony when three Swedish countrymen will be among the six newcomers joining him in the Hall.
“(Salming) has a whole new meaning when you become coach of the Leafs,” Sheldon Keefe said. “Like so many others, you think of the Leafs, you think of him.
“Particularly when it comes to the European players which are so prominent around the league and (six Swedes) playing on our team now.
“They have a bond with him (here) and he’s taken time to spend with them. He was here last season and he’s chatted with them briefly. It’s very clear to me he’s a proud Maple Leaf and with all our alumni, when you have that connection, it helps your career to see the impact the team has had and the city has had on players who’ve come before them.”
Defenseman Rasmus Sandin recalls a lunch that Salming set up with him and his father at a Stockholm restaurant in 2018, the year the Leafs made him a first-round draft pick. Salming gave the teenager a primer on the city, the team and the media, of how he went on to be an NHL all-star, setting many franchise marks.
“I was nervous, with that (raspy) voice of his,” Sandin recalled. “But he was my Dad’s idol growing up and he was more nervous than I was.
“I think the meal was on the house because Borje was with us. It was a great memory.”
Mark Giordano was too young to see Salming play, but deferred to his father, Paul, as the family’s Salming historian.
“My Dad’s generation said he was underrated, one of the best players at his position. And you hear off the ice he was a great guy, too.
“So, it’s great to (recognize) players like this. I think it will be unbelievable (Friday).”
Salming’s visit to Toronto with his family is two-fold, the Hall induction, but also to further investigate treatment and secure drugs to help alleviate his condition that are unfortunately difficult to get approved to bring into Sweden.
ALS has already robbed him of his ability to speak and he’s restricted to using a feeding tube.
“He’s going through a really big fight right now and we are all standing behind him,” Sandin said. “It’s tough on him, but it’s great to have him in Toronto right now. We wish him the best.”