STOCKHOLM -- Pia Salming was welling up.

Only this time, 358 days after the death of her beloved husband, Borje Salming, these were tears of joy.

On this special day at the iconic Cafe Opera in downtown Stockholm, Pia had just witnessed NHL Alumni Association president Glenn Healy and former Toronto Maple Leafs great Mats Sundin present Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom with the inaugural Borje Salming Courage Award.

The honor goes to the Europe-born NHL alum who has been a positive influence in their community and best embodies Borje Salming's lasting legacy of courage, bravery and dedication on and off the ice.

In Pia's estimation, there could be no better recipient than Lidstrom, the Sweden-born seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the top defenseman in the NHL.

The former Detroit Red Wings star is on the board of directors of the Borje Salming Foundation, which raises funds to research ALS, the disease that led to Salming's death Nov. 24, 2022.

"Nick's efforts have been overwhelming, and so has the support from all over," Pia said. "The creation of this award, well, it shows the heart from Canada, which has helped us from the beginning. I mean, we're like a family. And now that we have this award in cooperation with the foundation, it's going to mean everything in the future. Everything."


The love shown to Salming in his native Sweden hasn't been limited to the award.

Pia was on hand for a red-carpet celebration of the premiere episode of the six-part series, "Borje: The Journey of a Legend," on Tuesday. The Hollywood-like event had a Swedish flavor with celebrities ranging from NHL luminaries like Lidstrom, Sundin, Henrik Zetterberg, William Nylander, John Tavares and Steve Yzerman, to actor Jason Priestley, one of the series' stars. Posters, banners and billboards for the docuseries have been splashed across Stockholm, including inside the city’s famed central train station.

"It's hard to express in words all this love that is being shown to Borje, because the love is overwhelming," she said. "So it gives you strength after the hard times our family has been through.

"I'm so happy for Borje that the first recipient of the award is someone who is so unselfish. Borje himself was like that. He never saw a person he considered to be better than another person. That was the best part of him.

"So to see Nick, to see everybody step up and help with our foundation, I'm speechless."

Borje signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 12, 1973, and the defenseman became the first player born and trained in Europe to skate in 1,000 NHL games, on Jan. 4, 1988. In 1996 he became the first NHL player from Europe to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"He was my hero, my idol," said Lidstrom, who joined Borje in the Hall in 2015. "But I never told him that. Maybe I was too much in awe, maybe I was too shy, maybe I was a bit embarrassed. I mean, he opened the door for many of us to go over there.

"Mats and I were really young when we had the chance to play with him at the 1991 Canada Cup for Team Sweden. We were so nervous. He just calmly told us to go out and enjoy ourselves.

"It is an honor to receive an award like this and help pursue research to find a cure for ALS."

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Sundin had a similar Salming-related memory from that 1991 Canada Cup team.

"We had our training camp in a small town about three hours west of here," he said. "It was my first stint with the national team, and to find out Borje would be on it, well, wow.

"I remember we all thought we were in good shape, and then we saw Borje without a shirt on. He was such a physical specimen. And then we thought, 'Hey, maybe we're not in such good shape after all.'

"He helped me in my career. When the Maple Leafs approached me to be captain, I reached out to him for advice. He said I should do it because he'd rejected a similar offer from Toronto in his career and had regretted the decision ever since.

"This award is such a great way to honor a pioneer."

More than 20 former NHL players attended the event, including Brendan Shanahan, Anders Hedberg and Mats Naslund, an indication to Healy of just how much Salming still is revered.

And Lidstrom, for that matter.

"Nicklas is a true representation of what this award is all about," Healy said. "From supporting youth hockey initiatives to a no-ego attitude on and off the ice, he perfectly represents this award and the legacy behind it."

Pia couldn't have said it any better.

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