NEWARK, N.J. | Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement announcement Thursday morning in Detroit brought with it plenty of praise from around the NHL. Rival general managers and ex-teammates spoke out in public and on Twitter to voice their appreciation for the Detroit Red Wings defenseman’s contributions over his 20-year career.
But among the New Jersey Devils’ Swedish players, it’s even more significant.
“He’s been a great role model for every Swede growing up, myself included,” goaltender Johan Hedberg said. “[He] probably doesn’t get the respect that he deserves in Sweden. He’s kind of a low-key guy that gets overshadowed by some other, more marquee personalities. If there’s anyone that people should want to model themselves after, it would be him.”
Defenseman Henrik Tallinder said he was too young for Lidstrom to be his top idol, but it’s impossible to understate his influence on Swedish hockey.
“He’s been an icon in Sweden for so long. I mean, two decades, it’s a long time to play in the best league in the world. The things he has accomplished is remarkable,” Tallinder said. “Once he started to make it in this league, who doesn’t look up to him? He’s an icon. Everybody wants to be like him and play like him: Offensively, defensively, you name it. He does it all.”
Tallinder and Hedberg didn’t hesitate to call Lidstrom the best Swede to ever play in the NHL, noting no offense is intended toward Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin. Four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies make the case.
“I think all the young players in Sweden look up to him and try to play similar as he do,” said defenseman Adam Larsson, who wears No. 5 in honor of Lidstrom. “What he have done so far is unique, and hopefully I can look back after my career and say that I’ve done something like he have.”
That’s a tall order. Lidstrom’s Hall of Fame career not only makes him a top candidate as the best Swedish hockey player of all-time but puts him in the discussion among the best Europeans. Certainly Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne are up there as well.
“There’s probably plenty of guys you can name being great,” Hedberg said. “In my mind with how he’s been consistently great for 20 years and helped the franchise to four Stanley Cups. He’s never even been hurt. He’s been a mainstay, the backbone of that team for two decades. That’s very impressive. I think that’s what sets him apart from a lot of guys.”