Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund are back on the ice and suddenly last-place Modo looks like a contender in the 2009-10 Elitserien.
by Chipp Reid
After spending most of the first half of the 2009-10 Elitserien in the basement, Modo Hockey took steps to climb our of last and back into contention of a playoff spot.
The team that earned fame as Sweden’s “Hockey Factory” in the 1990s and early 2000s entered December as the worst team in the league, more than 30 points behind league-leading HV 71. Modo, to right its ship and get back into contention, reached back to its past and convinced former NHL greats Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund to return to the team where they started their careers.
Forsberg donned the red and black of the Örnsköldsvik team Nov. 17 and had an immediate impact, picking up three assists as Modo beat Brynäs 5-1. Forsberg played on the second line with Per Svartvadet and Magnus Häggström. Svartvadet picked up a goal and an assist while Häggstöm had a hat-trick. It was the start of a run for Modo in which the team collected points from eight of nine games.
It took Näslund a couple weeks to get his hockey legs back after taking the entire summer off. The former NHL sniper retired last season after one year with the New York Rangers. He notched an assist in the first period of his return Nov. 30 against Rögle when he set up—who else?—Forsberg for a power play goal.
"I felt quite all right," Näslund said. "I haven't really practiced since we were eliminated from the playoffs (with the New York Rangers) last season, so it's not that strange that I feel a bit tired."
Forsberg added an assist in the game and he and Näslund renewed a partnership that also led Sweden to gold medals in hockey in 1994 and again in 2006.
Näslund finished second to Forsberg in scoring during the 2002-03 NHL season with a career-high 104 points—including 48 goals. He retired from the NHL in May after 15 seasons, and had not played since.
Modo has been on a tear since the two former NHL stars returned, winning five games and tying two in its last eight contests. Forsberg has 14 points over that span as he and Näslund try to carry Modo into the top eight of the standings. Despite the success, Naslund warned fans not to start saving for playoff tickets—yet.
“We are still last in the table. First and foremost, we must try to take us to the playoffs,” said Näslund.
Forsberg was just as realistic about how he has played.
“Scoring-wise, I am very pleased,” he said. “I've had really good success so far, but I think it will be difficult to maintain this pace all season.”
The former Colorado Avalanche superstar also said so far he had no problems with the foot that knocked him out of the NHL and nearly ended his career.
“I am not a hundred percent yet, but it feels like I'm getting into it, and the foot, I have no problem with it,” he said.
The pairing of the two former All-Stars along with former New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens star Niklas Sundström has many Modo fans thinking a worst-to-first rise is more than a little possible. Näslund’s enthusiasm only fueled those hopes as he gushed about reuniting with Forsberg.
“It was great fun and I think we will find each other better and better the more we get to play together,” he said. “We have not even played together during exercises in the training sessions. I did not have any more expectations on myself but must still be pretty happy with results given the short time I've trained.”
Forsberg praised his new teammate for his performance so far.
“I thought he looked lively for someone who was away for a while and has not been training very long,” Forsberg said. “Sure, he got tired a bit at the end, but he must get some time. I have been in the same position as him and know how difficult it is to come back.”
Modo climbed out of the cellar thanks to its run, although it is still in the relegation zone. However, Modo started its streak 10 points away from the eighth and final playoff spot. Now, Forsberg’s bunch is just three points from Brynäs, which holds the No. 8 slot. It remains 20 points behind HV 71, which leads the league with 51 points.
The Blue Bulls have the same record as second-place Färjestad but hold a three-point edge over the defending league champions, thanks to having three more overtime wins than the Karlstad team.
Going into the games Dec. 5, Linköping was third with 47 points, Skellefteå was fourth with 45, followed by Luleå, 40, Djurgården and Frölunda with 38 and Brynäs with 34. Timrå and Rögle currently hold the relegation playoff spots with 33 points each. Södertälje is last with 30 points.
Peter Forsberg scores off an assist from Markus Näslund Dec. 1 against Södertälje. Bildbyran photo/Robin Nordlund