Asterix: The Hockey Way
Asterix: The Hockey Way
Remembering Salming’s Great Crossing
Leading up to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, we’re dedicating one article to each day of the tournament, making a tongue-in-cheek comparison between an Asterix comic book and famous aspects of international hockey history.
Sweden will take on the United States at the group stage in Cologne. With this the plot of Asterix and the Great Crossing comes to mind. In this 1975 classic, Asterix and Obelix go out to sea on a fishing trip and a storm blows them over to the New World. They enter into amusing conflicts and alliances with the native peoples, and also cross paths with some early Viking “discoverers” of North America!
Borje Salming likewise broke new ground when he came over to join the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973-74. The big Kiruna-born defenceman wasn’t the first Swedish NHLer. That honour belongs to winger Ulf Sterner, who played four games for the New York Rangers in 1963-64. And defenceman Thommie Bergman had logged a solid season with Detroit the year before Salming’s arrival. But Borje brought boundless brilliance!
Much like Obelix muses, “Who’d have thought I’d ever wear the uniform of a Roman mercenary?”, Salming must have wondered at times why he’d agreed to suit up on the rough-and-tumble North American circuit. In his first two months in the NHL, the 22-year-old rookie fought such notorious enforcers as Dave “The Hammer” Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers and Garry Howatt of the New York Islanders. It was reminiscent of how Asterix and Obelix are accepted into a local tribe after engaging in combat with the toughest warriors. However, Salming would mainly earn respect for the skillful way he used his stick and skates!
In Wendel Clark’s 2016 autobiography Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game, the beloved ex-Leafs captain says: “Salming was as tough as they come, and he was the most talented guy I ever played with. He had already played thirteen seasons by the time I got to Toronto. But when we were skating laps, he could blow by me. The other young guys on the team all experienced the same thing – none of us could touch him. We used to wonder to ourselves what Borje must have been like a decade earlier.”
This two-time IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medalist (bronze in 1972, silver in 1973) spent 17 seasons in the NHL, recording 787 points in 1,148 games. In 1993, he would retire as the all-time Leafs leader in points by a defenceman. By then, his success had long ago normalized the presence of talented Swedes, Finns, Russians, and other Europeans in the NHL.
Salming returned home as a conquering hero – although unlike Obelix, he wasn’t carrying a large net full of fish. In 2008, he was named to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team’s defence alongside Russian legend Vyacheslav Fetisov!
This is a 17-part series prior to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, of which Asterix and Obelix are the official mascots. Click on News to find the stories.
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