Toronto Maple Leafs legend Börje Salming has died after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was 71 years old.
The team released a statement Thursday announcing the passing on behalf of the Salming family, saying he was “a gaming pioneer and icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned tenacity.”
“He helped open the door for Europeans in the NHL and has become defined by his on-ice play and his contributions to the community,” Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan wrote.
“Börje joined the Maple Leafs 50 years ago and will always be part of our hockey family. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Pia, his children Theresa, Anders, Rasmus, Bianca, Lisa and Sara and his brother Stieg.
Salming announced in August that he had been diagnosed with ALS.
“I received news that shook my family and me,” he said at the time. “The signs that something was wrong with my body turned out to be ALS disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Salming, who played 16 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1973 to 1989 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, said he recognizes there is currently no cure for ALS.
“In an instant, everything changed. I don’t know how the days ahead will be, but I understand there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced.”
ALS is a progressive disease of the nervous system that leads to paralysis, inability to swallow, respiratory failure and ultimately death.
Earlier this month, the former Leafs defenseman was honored by the franchise during a touching moment with former players Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin.
Mayor John Tory expressed condolences to Salming’s family, loved ones and Toronto hockey fans following news of his passing.
“From Sweden to Toronto, ‘The King’ will be remembered for the incredible impact he had on our city,” Tory said in A declaration Thursday. “I’m grateful he was able to be here earlier this month for such a brave and loving time on the ice.”
Salming’s #21 jersey hangs in the rafters at Scotiabank Arena. His number is just one of 19 the Leafs have retired.
Outside of the Leafs, Salming played for Sweden at four IIHF World Championships, three Canada Cups and the 1992 Winter Olympics.
With files from Sean Davidson of CTV News Toronto
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