Swedish Borje Salming was not the first European to play in the NHL, but he was the first European-trained player to reach all-star status and to play in 1,000 NHL games. On January 4, 1988, he became the fifth member of the Toronto Maple Leafs to make 1,000 appearances.
Back in 1972, Toronto scout Gerry McNamara attended the Christmas tournament while Salming was playing for Stockholm. According to Salming, “He came in and asked me if I wanted to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was sort of the first time I ever thought about it and I thought, ‘Wow. That would be fun to play there.’ Before that I was never even thinking of the National Hockey League. I’d heard of it but never thought I was going to play there.” He later said he had no problem adjusting once he came to play for Toronto in 1973. As a defenseman, he felt the 2-3 week training camp prepared him to play on the smaller rink. “I adjusted pretty good. The only problem I had was with my English.”
During Salming’s 15th NHL season, he played in his 1,000th game at Toronto. The Toronto Maples Leafs and Vancouver Canucks seemed like they were playing shinny in that the last to score wins. They alternated scoring through the first two periods in which each team scored two goals in the first and one in the second. While Toronto had led the scoring until that point, Vancouver scored the first goal of the third period. Then, beginning at the 11-minute mark, “seven goals [were] scored, by seven different players in seven minutes.” Vancouver brought the score up to 5-3, but over the next three minutes, Toronto scored three times for a 6-5 lead. Salming had an assist on the second of these. In the next 18 seconds, Vancouver scored again followed by another goal about two minutes later. Finally, Toronto swooped in for the tie at 17:44. Frustrated that his team gave up the lead, Vancouver coach Bob McCammon commented, “That was pathetic defence by both teams.” He half-heartedly joked, “I guess I can tell you why my hair is this thin and John Brophy’s is white.” Toronto coach John Brophy said, “Bizarre is a good word for it. . . . It was one of those nights where the last shot wins.”
Salming played another season with the Leafs and a final NHL season with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring in 1990. He still holds Toronto’s records for assists (620) and rating (plus-155), as well as for goals (148), assists (620), and points (768) by a defenseman. Throughout the NHL, Salming holds the record for points (787) by an undrafted defenseman. He then returned to Sweden and represented his country in the 1992 Albertville Olympics. In 1996, Salming became the first European-trained player (and third European) inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Salming gushed, “I was so extremely happy about that. When they called me I was actually crying. I couldn’t believe it.” Then, in 2015, his statue was added to the Maple Leafs “Legends Row,” and the following year, the Leafs retired his No. 21. Salming felt the statue was “pretty cool.” “Basically when I’m gone, my grandkids and everybody can go there and say, ‘I know that guy.’ That’s fantastic.”
- Jack Keating, “An Ugly Evening,” Vancouver Province, 5 Jan. 1988, p. 39.
- Pete McMartin, “Canucks give up lead in shinny tie with Leafs,” Vancouver Sun, 5 Jan. 1988, p. C1 and C4.
- “Canucks and Leafs settle for a saw-off,” Victoria Times Colonist, 5 Jan. 1988, p. B2.