Börje Salming: A Swedish Pioneer for European NHL Hockey Players

In a time when ice hockey was dominated by Canadians, Börje Salming proved that Europe could compete. He had it all; the drive, the skill, the stamina, and the fighting spirit.

It’s one thing to be excellent at a game; it’s something else entirely to have an influence on the game itself. Thankfully for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Börje Salming is one of the few players in history to have done both.

Dubbed “The King” during his illustrious tenure as the league’s best defenceman with the Leafs, Salming was not only the NHL’s first Swedish player enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but he also paved the way for millions of Swedes to aspire to play in the NHL.

Today, as Swedes continue to make waves in the league, we pay tribute to the man that started it all.

Salming’s NHL Debut 

When Börje Salming first arrived in the NHL, teams didn’t know what to make of him. He was a different breed – an ice hockey player with European roots. But, at a time when Canadians were the undisputed kings of the sport, Salming’s took to the ice to show he could compete with the best of them.

He proved his detractors wrong, scoring goals and making plays that had never been seen before from a European player. He was tenacious on the puck, always looking to make a difference in the game.

Born and raised in our beautiful hometown of Kiruna, Sweden, Salming spent the first few years of his professional career in the Swedish Hockey League, before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1972-73 season. Coming from a small town above the arctic circle, Börje defied all odds and became one of the greatest ice hockey players of all time.

Salming went on to play 16 seasons for the Maple Leafs and one season with the Detroit Red Wings, becoming a legend as a defenseman while also laying the groundwork for future European hockey players in the NHL.

We at TIDLÖS fully understand the drive and determination that it takes to succeed in a cold, arctic climate. Kiruna is a dark mining town in the most northern town in Sweden, and very few people ever leave to pursue their dreams.

The Börje Salming Impact

Salming was a rock star in Sweden. In fact, he was a trailblazer and an icon for Europeans everywhere. Many experts credit Salming with revolutionizing the way defensemen played the game. He brought a new level of skill and finesse to the position, setting a precedent for other European players that would come after him.

His impact on the league lies in his all-time Hall of Fame credentials:

  • 637 Assists
  • 150 Goals by Defenseman
  • 787 Points by a Defenseman
  • 170+ Best Career Plus/Minus

His reputation, on the other hand, took time to establish. His title “The King” was a suitable complement to his tenacious and dominant style of play, but it did not come easily for him.

Salming’s outsider status placed a bulls-eye on his back in the NHL. During a period of tremendous upheaval in the NHL’s history, his arrival was concurrent with the league’s most notorious era of violence. Penalties and sanctions were commonplace, and Salming was often on the receiving end of cheap shots and dirty plays.

But he never backed down, and that’s why so many people began to idolize this star. Although he was never considered ’a dirty player’, he stood up for himself, fought through the violence, and continued to play his own game – a style that would come to be emulated by defensemen all over the NHL.

The Worst Injury In the NHL 

It’s somewhat laughable that Salming, who earned the NHL community’s respect for his thick skin, should suffer what is almost certainly the league’s most horrendous injury. In a 1986 game against the Detroit Red Wings, left-winger Gerard Gallant inadvertently stepped on Salming’s face, with his skates on. Harsh, we know.

The injury left a deep scrape that went from his forehead all the way down to his mouth. The result? Börje Salming went on to receive almost 250 stitches in his face.

Afterward, Salming had a remarkable interview where he didn’t seem to care much about the injury and instead mocked it. “After the second facial injury, I always said that there would be a third,” he said. He then continued, laughing: “I guess I was lucky. My eye is okay. But it doesn’t look good.”

This man is tough.

A Legend’s Legacy

Salming’s legacy extends well beyond his injury and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, it stretches all the way to Sweden, where he is well-known as a national hero and the biggest ice hockey icon we have.

His jersey (no.21) now proudly hangs in the rafters of the Air Canada Centre, and his impact on the game has been felt for decades. We’re so proud to have him come from the same hometown as TIDLÖS.

We know that it’s not easy pushing past barriers and defying odds, especially when you come from a small town in the arctic. However, Salming was not afraid of hard work, and he proved to the world that great things can happen when you’re determined to make a difference.

For TIDLÖS, Börje is an inspiration for us all to be different and embrace our own style of play. We know that it takes a certain kind of person to succeed at something, especially when they come from a town where people usually settle for the ordinary. 

TIDLÖS salutes Börje Salming for his achievements. We hope that this story inspires youngsters in our region to pursue their dreams, no matter how difficult they may seem. 

Thanks for everything, Börje!