Borje Salming, Maple Leafs legend and winner of the ALS battle, has died.

Borje Salming was a legendary NHL defenseman who also led the charge for European-born North American players. He has passed away amid a near two-year long battle with ALS. He was 71.

The Toronto Maple LeafsSalming's most significant contribution to his career was for, released a statement Salming's death will be announced on Thursday

“The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Börje Salming,” said Leafs' President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan. “Börje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned toughness. He opened the doors for Europeans to the NHL, and he defined himself through his playing on the ice as well as his contributions to his community.

Börje joined the Maple Leafs 50 years ago and will forever be a part of our hockey family. His wife Pia, his children Theresa (Rasmus), Rasmus, Bianca Lisa, Lisa, Sara and brother Stieg are our deepest sympathies.”

Salming's NHL career was a decorated 17-season span between 1973 and 1990 between Toronto and Detroit. His resume included 1,148 games and 787 point totals. Salming was twice runner-up in the Norris Trophy. He became the first Swedish-born hockey player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. Two years later, he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. The blueliner, who was an NHL first-team All Star in 1977, and a 5-time NHL second-team All-Star from 1975-80.

Salming was the ‘King' of Toronto for 16 of his 17 NHL seasons. He walked the Maple Leafs' blueline with an intensity and grit that defied common stereotypes that Swedish-bred skaters were too weak to succeed in the tough NHL. Salming was spotted playing abroad in 1973 by Leafs' Scout Gerry McNamara. McNamara was in Sweden for Inge Hammarstrom's scouting; he signed Salming as a free agent instead.

Salming quickly became a Toronto favorite and was embraced by his fans. Salming became the first European-born athlete to reach the 1,000-game mark in January 1998. Salming signed a one year free agent contract with Red Wings the following year to close out his career. Salming's Toronto legacy as the franchise's defense leader in assists (620), and points (760), was not lost. The organization has since retired 21.

Salming retired, but he continued to be an active member of the hockey community. In August, he was diagnosed with ALS. ALS, a progressive disease of nerve system cells, causes muscle control loss and brain damage. Salming first noticed symptoms in February. His health quickly declined thereafter. Salming announced last month that he lost his ability to speak.

Salming was able to keep his resolve even though the illness ravaged his body. Salming wanted to go to the Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto, where three other Swedish players would be inducted. Salming made it. The Maple Leafs gave him a pre-game tribute before they faced Vancouver. The standing ovation was given to Salming, who had overcome his fears. Swedish-born people performed the ceremonial puck dropping. Oliver Ekman-Larsson And William NylanderSheldon Keefe, Leafs coach, iced a starting line-up that featured six of Toronto’s Swedish-born players.

It was Salming’s second appearance at this event in the same night. Salming was also recognized at the Hall of Fame Game between Pittsburgh and Toronto. Darryl Sittler (a former teammate) helped Salming to the ice. Sittler then broke down watching Salming being cheered by the arena. Salming spoke with Sittler in September, and stated that he would be visiting Toronto to see the three Swedish-born inductees: Daniel Sedin (Vancouver) and Henrik Sedin (Ottawa).

Salming was a pioneer, in every sense. He made it possible for European-bred players to flourish in North America.

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