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How the Maple Leafs Players Learned of Borje Salming's Passing

Inside The Maple Leafs on FanNation logo Inside The Maple Leafs on FanNation 11/24/2022 David Alter
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The Maple Leafs were preparing for practice in St. Paul, Minnesota when a meeting was called led by GM Kyle Dubas.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When William Nylander learned there was going to be a team meeting before the Toronto Maple Leafs stepped out on the ice for practice on Thursday, the last thing he expected to hear was the passing of Hall-of-Famer and Leafs legend Borje Salming.

"It really caught me off guard," Nylander said. "It happened so fast."

Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas addressed the players and delivered the news that Salming had lost his battle with ALS on Thursday. The Swedish defensive legend disclosed in August that he had been diagnosed with the incurable disease and his health had been deteriorating rapidly since.

"It was very sad and quiet in the room," Nylander said.

Salming forged a particular bond with Swedish players, especially ones that became a Maple Leaf.

Earlier this month, Rasmus Sandin shared a story of when he was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2018. Salming had reached out to him to invite him for lunch, a particularly special moment for Sandin's father, Patric who "idolized" him.

Sandin texted his father after the team meeting, but his dad had already learned of Salming's passing.

"I wasn't expecting it but I knew how bad the things he was going through," Sandin said. "It's been going very quick for him but I'm just thinking about his whole family right now."

On Nov. 11 and 12, the Maple Leafs were able to honor Salming while the man affectionately known by his teammates as 'King' was in town. 

On the 11th, he was in locked in arms on the ice with Leafs legends Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin as Salming was part of a group to honor and welcome the 2022 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class. On the 12th, Salming was honored individually by the Maple Leafs. Head coach Sheldon Keefe selected all six of his Swedish players to be in the starting lineup as a fitting tribute to a player who blazed a trail for other Swedes in the game of hockey that came after him.

"I think there are opportunities to take the experience that we've had," Keefe said following practice at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday. "That experience, I think, can very positively impact the group with the legacy, how you are remembered and things like that. The fact that we're back at it here today tells you a lot about the type of person and player that he was."

The shock was prevalent in the room. When reporters were permitted to come into Toronto's locker room to interview players, the mood was still somber.

But there was an appreciation that the Leafs were able to at least have a fitting goodbye for their legend.

"I'm just glad the organization had time to bring him over and really show how much the fans and the organization really appreciate him and how much he meant to the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general," Leafs goaltender Erik Kallgren said.

Despite the grief and disappointment, the Leafs continued their preparation as they take on the Minnesota Wild on Friday. 

"The fact that we're back at it here today tells you a lot about the type of person and player that he was," Keefe said.

Salming was a proud player. You could feel his sadness on the ice when Maple Leafs players, fans and people from around the hockey community cheered him on. 

"You can see the emotion from his teammates from the city," Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. "It was hard not to be heavy-eyed in those moments and really just step back and appreciate how he set the standard of what it is to be a Maple Leaf."

But because of ALS, a disease that has no cure. Salming is gone. And in everyone's hearts, not forgotten.

"It speaks to how devastating the illness is and that's why there's so much awareness and money trying to be raised to come up with solutions to it," Keefe said. It's devastating for sure. We're grateful to have that opportunity to share that moment that we had with him in Toronto."

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