In three months, the Joe Louis will reopen their doors. The ice will be a crisp white, the smell of hot dogs will drift through the corridors, and a sell-out crowd wearing red and white will fill the seats. Detroit Red Wings hockey will be back under way, but the atmosphere in the arena will be different as a new game of hockey emerges. A game that, for the first time in 20 seasons, doesn’t include Captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
On Thursday, Lidstrom announced that, after much thought and consideration, he doesn’t feel that he has what it takes to play at the level he expects of himself and will be hanging up his skates. When the Wings’ season ended this past April, speculation of Lidstrom’s retirement was the topic in Hockeytown.
It wasn’t a new topic, however. The end of the past several seasons has had fans waiting to hear of the decision: Will he retire or play just one more year? Lidstrom’s answer was always the same–he would wait a few weeks until the entire NHL season was over and then make his decision. So when I got the news yesterday that a press conference had been scheduled just one day after the Stanley Cup finals began, I knew it wasn’t good news.
It’s not just that he was captain of the Red Wings that makes it so sad to see him go. It’s not that, like Steve Yzerman, he’s played his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings. It’s because he’s Nick Lidstrom.
Drafted as Detroit’s third pick in 1989, he started playing with the team during the 1991-1992 season. There’s not a game I’ve watched that didn’t have Lidstrom on the team. I remember June of 1997; my ninth birthday. The theme was Detroit Red Wings and I got a brand new Wings shirt with a giant Stanley Cup on it. I remember wearing the shirt a few days later while walking through a store and I stopped to look at some other Wings shirts. Although I watched hockey then, I wasn’t the fan that I am now and I certainly didn’t know every player's name. I remember pausing at a gray shirt with Lidstrom’s face printed on it. “Wow,” I thought. “He’s cute.”
I tell that story because I always get the same questions, “Why do you like the Red Wings?” or “Why do you like hockey so much?” or my favorite, “How do you know so much about sports … you’re a girl?”
So for all of you who wonder, you now know that my love of hockey grew from being a stereotypical girl and having a crush on one of the players.
As I grew up and Lidstrom played more games, his resume started to impress me more than his looks. He’s played 1,564 games, including 263 playoff games. The equivalent of another three seasons with the team. His 264 goals rank ninth in the NHL and his 54 playoff goals rank him third. 183 playoff points place him second in the league while 1,142 points overall places him fourth.
January of 1996 brought his first All Star game, a game he would play in ten more times before his career was over. Deemed most valuable to his team during their 2002 Stanley Cup run, he was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy, the first European born player to do so. Named captain in October of 2006, he became the first European captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup in 2008.
Lidstrom received a gold medal playing for Team Sweden in the 2006 Olympics. He won a phenomenal seven Norris trophies as well as four Stanley Cups in a span of 15 years.
I almost feel as if I’m writing an obituary here, and in a way it is. Hockeytown, and NHL for that matter, is losing one of its greatest.
I think it’s a little different for me, though. You see, even though I’ve been a long time Wings’ fan, I wasn’t able to attend my first game until the 2007 season. The season after Yzerman retired. Lidstrom’s all I’ve known and to know I’ll never watch another game with the No. 5 soaring effortlessly up and down the ice, it’s almost an indescribable feeling.
Detroit has nothing but fond memories of Lidstrom and it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Mickey York said it perfectly when asked just before the press conference what his favorite Lidstrom moment was. “That’s the funny thing about Nick. It’s not one particular story. It’s every day.”
Daren Elliot agreed stating, “He didn’t change the game. He mastered it,” later adding, “He never told you how good he was. He just went out and showed us for the last 20 years.”
Red Wings’ General Manager Ken Holland has often said he’s been afraid of this day since he entered his position in 1997.
“I think he’s been the most valuable player in his era,” Holland said. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the greatest Red Wings of all time. One of the greatest defenseman of all time.”
Lidstrom’s ease and skill in the game were not lost on Holland.
“He made the game look so easy … he played the game with class and dignity. He respected the game. People don’t realize how great he was because he made it look so easy,” Holland said. “Guys like this, they don’t come around very often.”
Lidstrom himself had nothing but great things to say about his time wearing the Winged Wheel. During the press conference he spoke of his coaches, his family, the friendships he’s made over the years with teammates, and even his respect for the media. But most importantly he spoke of what it meant to play his career with just one team.
“I never even wanted to leave Detroit. I always believed in this team and this organization and what they could do to win another Stanley Cup,” Lidstrom said.
It wasn’t just the team he took pride in, but the city itself.
“I take a lot of pride in being a Red Wing but also in being a player that comes from Detroit.” Lidstrom said.
It’s the end of an era in Detroit but the team now turns to their younger players to step up their game and fill the void Lidstrom will leave on the ice.
As much as it saddens me to hear the news, I respect Lidstrom’s decision. And I think I speak for all of Hockeytown when I say, Nick Lidstrom, we wish you nothing but the absolute best in the future and thank you for a fantastic 20 years.
Samantha Elliott is a University of Michigan-Dearborn graduate, journalist, resident of Wyandotte, and self-proclaimed sports fanatic.