DETROIT – Nicklas Lidstrom was the last person to speak at his Detroit Red Wings jersey-retirement ceremony.
He might have spoken the least while perhaps saying the most, fittingly for a player who was subtly spectacular on the ice.
Lidstrom was honoured Thursday night before Detroit hosted the Colorado Avalanche. A red banner—with his last name and number in white—was raised to the rafters.
“It’s not like winning a trophy for a successful season or playoff; it’s not winning an individual trophy,” he said on a puck-shaped podium. “This is something different. This is all about being a Detroit Red Wing.”
The storied franchise previously retired six jerseys: Gordie Howe’s No. 9, Steve Yzerman’s No. 19, Ted Lindsay’s No. 7, Terry Sawchuk’s No. 1, Alex Delvecchio’s No. 10 and Sid Abel’s No. 12. But Lidstrom is the first defenceman to have his jersey retired by the Red Wings.
Detroit drafted the Swede in the third round and between 1991 and 2012 he played in the most games (1,564) by someone who was on only one NHL team.
“For the first couple of years, he didn’t seem that great, but then you began to appreciate him,” Delvecchio said.
Lidstrom, with sound positioning and a strong shot, helped the Red Wings win four of their 11 Stanley Cups between 1997 and 2008. He won seven Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenceman and trailed only Bobby Orr’s record total of eight.
“As much as we didn’t like him when we were playing against each other, I had tons of respect for him,” Colorado coach and former NHL goaltending great Patrick Roy said.
Lidstrom became the first European-born captain to win a Stanley Cup in 2008, six years after being the first from Europe to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s post-season MVP. With his signature slap shot, he scored the gold-medal winning goal for Sweden against Finland at the 2006 Olympics.
In a video tribute shown during a first-period timeout, Yzerman said Lidstrom was one of the game’s all-time greats.
“You made our jobs so much easier,” Yzerman said.
Lidstrom retired after the 2011-12 season—his 20th with the Red Wings. He refused to settle for being merely a good defenceman in the league and turned down a chance to make about $6 million with a third straight one-year contract.
“No regrets, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it,” he said. “I miss playing, but I never had any urge to get back to being on the ice and playing in a game.”
With his wife and their four hockey-playing boys, he is living back home in Sweden and enjoying a simple life.
“What’s been so relaxing about it is that I get weekends off,” Lidstrom said. “I never had any weekends off that I can remember since I was a teenager.”
When Lidstrom was 21 and going into his first NHL season, he was asked what number he wanted to wear if he made the team.
Not knowing much about the Red Wings other than Yzerman being their captain, Lidstrom asked for No. 9—a number that had been retired for nearly 20 years to honour Howe.
“Kid, that just ain’t going to happen,” Lidstrom recalled being told.
Lidstrom was later given a winged-wheel jersey with another single digit.
“No. 5 was handed to me,” he said with a grin.
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