Had a chance to speak to one of the all-time greats, Nick Lidstrom, this week for an upcoming project - how is it, by the way, that so many Swedes speak better English than I do? Lidstrom and I chatted about his career from beginning to end; even a little about what it’s like as it winds down.
First off, the kid who grew up idolizing Borje Salming and Anders Eldebrink sounded pumped for this season. At 40, the six-time Norris Trophy winner and nine-time first-team all-star is still one of the league’s best - many will tell you he got jobbed out of another Norris nomination last year - but understands that with age things come a little harder, even for first-ballot Hall of Famers.
“I think if you don’t have that motivation it’s hard,” said Lidstrom of keeping things going during the summer. “It’s tough to go through the off-season workouts everyone is doing to get ready for a long year; it takes its toll on your body. You have to be motivated to be ready to go through that and to be ready to play.
“And once you start in September it’s every day; you have to show up every day and you have to be motivated to be able to do that, too. I’m still motivated. I’m still looking forward to the season. And when August comes around, you want to get back on the ice again - I still have that hunger and I still have the desire to play.”
For a guy with all the individual accolades, four Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold, Lidstrom didn’t hesitate much when asked about career letdowns, the 62-win 1995-96 season being first on the list.
“(We) felt like we couldn’t lose that year and then we fell short in the conference final against the Avalanche - and they went and won the Cup,” he said. “I don’t think we lost many games twice in a row - lose one game and we bounce back with a win. That was a big disappointment.”
Losing to Belarus in the quarterfinal at the 2002 Olympics was another big disappointment for Lidstrom. He said it stings even more when you lose to a team you’re supposed to beat, especially after playing so well leading up to that contest - the Tre Kroner were undefeated in three round-robin games, outscoring Canada, the Czechs and Germany 14-4.
The Red Wings also won the Cup that year, something Lidstrom said relieved some of the angst of the Olympics loss. When asked about career highlights, he raised the 1997 Cup win (Detroit’s first in 42 years), but pointed back to the 2001-02 season - when he won the Norris, Conn Smythe and the Cup - as the one that set the bar personally.
“That was a big step for myself and a big career (marker) for me,” he said. “Winning in ’08, too, when you’re the captain and getting a chance to be the first European captain was something special.”
Ah yes, the first European captain of a Cup-winning team. Lidstrom put that myth to bed; the one that claimed Euros didn’t have what it took to lead an NHL team all the way.
(By the way, he was also the first Euro to win the Conn Smythe.)
“I don’t feel any added pressure from being a European,” he said. “I think I’ve been over here too long to feel the pressure from (that perspective). I was one of the assistants behind Stevie…I watched him up close and he was my captain for the 15 years we played together.
“So I watched Stevie up close and really admired what he did to help our team. Chelios was another guy, captain on other teams and came to our team and still a leader - not with the ‘C’ on his chest, but still a leader. So I’ve had some great players to play with who I’ve learned a lot from.”
Lidstrom is the undisputed leader of the Wings, but they’re still a team replete with vets: with the Kirk Maltby signing, they now have nine players 35 and older. That makes the big blueliner’s job that much easier. But, barring another campaign in which the team is ravaged by injuries, whether Detroit has the chops to be better this year than last - something Lidstrom believes they do - will have the most to do with how their captain plays. And that’s a role he relishes.
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