Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Borje Salming is shown in this undated file photo. Salming, who starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs over 16 NHL seasons, has died at 71 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Staff

Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Borje Salming is shown in this undated file photo. Salming, who starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs over 16 NHL seasons, has died at 71 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Staff

Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming dead at 71 after battle with ALS

Salming opened the door for Europeans in the NHL when he came over in the 1970s

Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming, who starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs over 16 NHL seasons, has died at 71 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The Maple Leafs confirmed Salming’s death in a statement.

Team president Brendan Shanahan said Salming opened the door for Europeans in the NHL.

“Borje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned toughness,” Shanahan said. “(Salming) defined himself through his play on the ice and through his contributions to the community.”

Toronto signed Salming as a free agent before the 1973-74 season.

The native of Kiruna, Sweden, went on to play 1,099 regular-season games with the Leafs, establishing team records for assists (620) and goals (148), points (768) and playoff points (49) by a defenceman.

Salming spent a 17th NHL season with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring after the 1989-90 season.

In August, Salming announced he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced,” Salming said at the time. “I also recognize that there is no cure but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day.

“Since I started playing ice hockey as a little kid in Kiruna, and throughout my career, I have given it my all. And I will continue to do so.”

Salming made a final appearance at centre ice in Toronto earlier this month before a Leafs game against the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Arena.

Salming, with his family and former teammates by his side, received a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd as a video chronicling his career played on the scoreboard before puck drop.

Robbed of his speech and some mobility, Salming shook hands with every member of the Maple Leafs as he slowly departed the ice.

“To just see how a guy like Borje was embraced by the fans and just what he did for this organization in his time here and what he still means to the city, I think that puts a lot of things into perspective for us as players playing here,” Leafs forward Auston Matthews said after the game.

“To have guys like him and others that have paved the way for us, it means a lot. You could just see it and feel it.”

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