Markus Naslund believes his long-time friend Peter Forsberg will continue his hockey career this season and should play for their hometown club in Sweden, Modo.
Naslund had dinner with Forsberg, 36, on Thursday evening as part of the NHLPA’s decade-long anniversary celebration of its Goals and Dreams program, which donates equipment to grassroots players in a 10-country, 10-day trip. The opening day of the tour visited Ornskoldsvik, where Naslund and Forsberg grew up playing together.
"There is definitely a chance that he might stay here and, in my opinion, it might be better for him," Naslund said in a phone interview on Friday. "He could play regularly — there are less games here and that would mean less wear and tear on him than in the NHL."
Naslund has no doubt that Forsberg, who is attempting a comeback after a chronic foot problem, will continue playing this season because he dearly wants to suit up for Sweden at the Vancouver Olympics. It’s now a matter of where, in Sweden or the NHL. The Canucks, Rangers, Flyers, Avalanche and Bruins are among the teams believed to be interested in signing the unrestricted free agent.
"I personally think he’s not going to retire," Naslund said. "I feel he will play somewhere this year. But who knows where he is going to play.
"He’s still working on figuring everything out. He wants to make sure he’s 100 per cent fit before he can commit to anything. I know he’s getting closer to making his decision, but I honestly don’t know which way he’s leaning."
Forsberg, of course, was a member of the 2006 Olympic gold-medal team, a club that Naslund was not part of because a groin injury kept him from playing in Torino Winter Games in Turin, Italy four years ago.
No regrets over retirement
Naslund, also 36, decided to retire last May. The former Penguins, Canucks and Rangers sniper doesn’t have any regrets now that the NHL season six weeks old.
"No, I don’t have any regrets," he said. "I’m at peace with my decision. There obviously is stuff that I miss, but I’m just happy that I had a chance to play the game for as long as I did. I just felt that it was time to go."
What keeps Naslund busy these days is coaching the minor team his seven-year-old son Alex plays on and the supervising the building of a new home in Ornskoldsvik.
Ornskoldvik is a northern pulp and paper town in Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia. The town has produced an incredible number of world-class hockey players, including Anders Hedberg, Tomas Gradin, Anders Kallur, Bo Berglund, Lars Lindgren, Tomas Jonsson, Lars Molin, Näslund, Forsberg, Niklas Sundström, Anders Eriksson, Mattias Timander, Per Svartvadet, Hans Jonsson, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Samuel Påhlsson and Mattias Karlin.
The residents of Ornskoldvik are as passionate for Modo as any of the fans are for the six Canadian NHL clubs, even thought Modo occupies the bottom spot of the Swedish Elitserien standings this season. Naslund and Forsberg were teammates with Modo, which has a history dating back to 1921, in the early 1990s when they were still junior aged.
So why has Ornskoldvik produced so much talent?
"I don’t have an answer for you," Naslund said. "Probably, a lot has to do with the grassroot teams here. We have a lot of volunteer coaches that put their heart and soul into their teams and there always has been pretty good competition among those teams in town.
"I don’t know if this is unique, but they have had a lot of success, that’s for sure.
Program in 10th year
The Goals and Dreams program is commemorating its 10th year by distributing more than 360 sets of equipment worth about $180,000. They began this mission by issuing 50 sets to Ornsköldsviks Hockeyklubb and 25 more to Jarveds IF.
"I’m more proud of the Goals and Dreams program," Naslund said. "The teams that have received the equipment are overwhelmed. During this trip, the most of the cities that will be visited are bigger or capital cities, so this has been well received."
The Goals and Dreams fund, which is funded by the members of the NHLPA, is the largest grassroots hockey program in the world. Since its inception in Nov. 1999, the program has donated more than $17 million to grassroots programs to more than 40,000 children in 22 countries.