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Forsberg excels with Avalanche of talent

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was June 30, 1992, when the Philadelphia Flyers gave up a bus-load of players, the Liberty Bell, draft choices, $15 million and a dozen full memberships to the Merion Country Club to the Quebec Nordiques for the rights to Eric Lindros.

Ask anyone and they'll tell you it was a dynamite deal for the Flyers, with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Lindros, in three seasons, scoring 1.4 points per game, winning MVP and All-Star plaudits and leading his team back into the playoffs after an absence of five years.

Meanwhile, the Nordiques are no longer in Canada, four of the players swapped for Lindros are playing for the Colorado Avalanche (where the Nords landed), four other players arriving in subsequent trades are on the roster, and no one really knows the whereabouts of the $15 million.

Chances are, for all of Lindros' celebrity, the Avalanche wouldn't put a recall on the blockbuster swap. The reason can be summed up in two words: Peter Forsberg.

He's the lad who, at the time of the trade, had just finished a season in Sweden that saw him score nine goals in 39 games. Then, he was about a year away from buying his first razor blade but, two years later, he was scoring the goal that gave Sweden the Olympic gold medal, and it has been full speed ahead since.

As a marquee player even before he knew what Nordique meant as a rookie in Quebec last season, Forsberg said, "It was pretty tough at the beginning, especially on the road," opposing players taking liberties with the Swede's body and placid nature. "But you get used to it."

Now everybody in the NHL has to get used to Forsberg, who's on a pace to score 145 points. If he maintains it, only a chap named Wayne Gretzky will have accounted for more points in his second year in the NHL.

Try to give the kid credit, though, and you'd think he was just another guy trying to pick up some playing time as a mucker on the fourth line. "Our success [the Avalanche is first in the Pacific Division] is due to the fact we have four good lines, and it's really hard to stop us."

Want proof? Forsberg, coming off NHL Player of the Week honors after recording four goals and eight assists in three games, went for the collar in Toronto the other night, but the aptly named Avalanche still clubbed the Maple Leafs, 5-1, thus ++ maintaining its five-goals-a-game pace.

"The trade helped both teams," Forsberg said of the Lindros deal. "Eric is doing a terrific job with the Flyers, but we have some great players here."

Around the rinks

* Quickie assessment of the NHL's Eastern Conference with about three-eighths of the season completed: Four teams -- Philly, Florida, the Broadway Blues and Mario's Penguins -- then take a number.

* Somebody has to have a tape of Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld down on a knee being "knighted" by Buffalo owner Seymour Knox (with a sabre, get it) during ceremonies marking the 26th and last season of the venerable Aud in Snow City. If so, show it again and again, ESPN; chivalry is not dead.

* Why on Earth would the Hartford Whalers want to make a rumored move to Cleveland? The city's major-league hockey history is sickly (both in the NHL and World Hockey Association) and now the full attention of sports fans there is given over to getting a pro football team back (see Baltimore's decade-long preoccupation). Besides, Cleveland already has a team in the International Hockey League, although not too many have noticed. Of course, the Insurance City boys are denying everything.

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