Born and raised in the middle of the mitten state, I consider myself a fortunate hockey fan for being born into such a great and successful franchise in the Detroit Red Wings.
Raised watching the greats of their era, I can remember playing hockey on my back porch as a young boy running up and down the deck pretending to be Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, and all of the other Red Wings that were so important to me in my childhood.
Then there was Nicklas Lidstrom. As a player growing up, I always played a forward position, and I excelled at it, which makes Lidstrom a bit of an odd player to try and mirror. Lidstrom had a way about him when he played, he made everything look so easy, without a thought he moves the puck out of the zone effortlessly and mistake free, over and over and over.
Lidstrom has been my favorite player to watch since I have been able to comprehend the game of hockey. I attached myself to a player that was respectful on and off the ice, a player that demonstrated true leadership, true character, and pure skill.
The Red Wings drafted Lidstrom with the 53rd selection in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. The Swedish defenseman stayed in Europe to play for the next couple of seasons, but made his debut with the Wings in 1991. Lidstrom skated in 80 games with the Wings his rookie season scoring 11 goals, 60 points, and posting a +/- of +36. His instant impact on the Wings took them to the next level of competition in the NHL.
And so the streak was born. Lidstrom’s first season in the NHL was the second year in a row the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs, and they wouldn’t miss out on the playoff tournament for the remainder of Lidstrom’s career.
Lidstrom went to his first NHL All-Star game in 1996. He would be sent to the All-Star game 12 times in the remaining 16 seasons of his career.
Lidstrom won his first of four Stanley Cups with the Wings in the 1996-1997 season, the first Cup the city of Detroit had seen since 1955. The Wings named Lidstrom the alternate captain of the team the following season, and the Wings went on to repeat as Stanley Cup champs in the 1997-1998 season grabbing Nick’s second Cup.
The Wings would win another Cup in 2002, and this time, Lidstrom would be given the honor of the Conn Smyth Trophy, awarded to the MVP of the playoffs. In 2006 following the retirement of long time Red Wings captain, and the savior of the franchise Steve Yzerman, Lidstrom was honored with the C as captain of the Wings. He became the first European captain in franchise history, and became the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup when the Wings brought home yet another Cup in 2008.
Lidstrom is arguably the greatest defenseman of all time, and undeniably the greatest defensive player the city of Detroit has ever seen. He won 7 Norris Trophies in his time in the NHL, ranking second behind only Bobby Orr. He also won three in a row from 2001-2003, becoming the first player since Orr to do so.
Lidstrom retired following the 2011-2012 season after playing 1,564 games in the NHL. He finished his career with a total of 264 goals and 878 assists and an absolutely unheard of +/- of +450. The most astonishing statistic of Lidstrom’s is that in 20 NHL seasons, he missed only 48 games.
Tonight was a rather emotional night in Detroit, as the Red Wings honored Lidstrom with raising a banner and retiring the number 5 forever. Lidstrom has had such a big impact on the organization, and the city of Detroit, there’s no better way to honor the future Hockey Hall of Famer (who was recently inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame as well).
The ceremony began with an introduction from Ken Daniels. Some words from current Wings coach Mike Babcock started things off. Praising Lidstrom for his on and off the ice preformance. Ken Holland, the GM of the Wings came next to congratulate the great defenseman. Mike Illitch, the owner of the Detroit Red Wings, was unable to make it to Detroit for the ceremony, so his son Chris Illitch took the mic for him and sang Lidstrom’s praises. Illitch referred to him not as the perfect human, but the perfect Red Wing.
Lidstrom then took the the podium. Lidstrom tracked back to his early days as a Wing, how his number was chosen for him, and then went on to praise Steve Yzerman for helping him become such a great player, person, and leader. Lidstrom’s humble ways were ever present as he explained how Yzerman has shaped the organization, and continues to do so. He went on to thank Scotty Bowman and the rest of the coaches in his career for shaping his abilities, thanking his present teammates, and the teammates that weren’t able to make it.
With one last thank you to the fans, Lidstrom circled the podium, stacked his papers, and walked back to his seat.
Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuk, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman… And now, Nicklas Lidstrom. His number 5 will forever be hung in the rafters of the Joe along side some of the greatest names to ever play the game of hockey.
Lidstrom will forever be my favorite player, and when I lace my skates up, I can’t help but wear the 5 on my back with pride and think that watching him for the first 18 years of my life was a blessing that I can never repay.
For everything you have done for this franchise, this city, for me, and everyone else that has had the joy and the honor of watching you play all 20 years of your career in the city of Detroit, wearing your winged wheel proud, thank you Nicklas Lidstrom. You truly are the perfect human.