The country I associate most with the immortal Nicklas Lidstrom, besides his native Sweden, is Mexico. It was on a family vacation south of the border as a little man, where I had my first conscious thoughts about the value of our recently exited captain. I would retreat to the television before dinner (these were the days prior to the emergence of the internet) to update myself on how our team was faring, thousands of miles away. For a time, Lidstrom was paired with the also legendary Paul Coffey, to form Detroit’s most potent blue line tandem. Inside a beach villa in Cabo San Lucas, I heard the words in my head that all Detroit fans have heard a hundred times over: “Give it to Lidstrom for the one timer.” Over to Lidstrom the puck was sent, for the signature blast defined by precision and velocity, to give Detroit an early lead.
The rockets launched by the Swedish Commander are what will make the highlight reels, and rightly so. Lidstrom’s authority during Detroit power plays is what I will miss most. But defensemen who have mastered the blue line bomb are fairly commonplace in the National Hockey League. It is Lidstrom’s psionic control of the game, his opiate like effect on the nerves of fans and teammates, and his off ice grace that will define his legacy.
Having never seen the revered Bobby Orr play, the man widely regarded as hockey’s finest defenseman, I cannot attest to his greatness as a player. I am happy to take the word of previous generations in this matter. What I can and MUST say, as I hope you all do too, is that Lidstrom is the greatest defenseman of the modern era, and perhaps ever.
An argument can be made, that being a defenseman is more challenging than being a forward. The fact that around half of your time on the ice will be spent skating backwards, innately tougher than skating forward, supports this argument. How a blue liner, totally devoid of aggression, controlled the premier hockey league on the planet, almost defies logic. But, as we know, it happened. To shove Lidstrom’s resume in the face of the immutable Don Cherry, a man who endlessly claims that players from Europe are lacking in the heart department, would be a fitting rebuke to those who question the determination of the most euro-influenced organization in North America. Yes, will does beat skill. But skill combined with will is invincible, and Lidstrom is will plus skill personified.
A casual hockey fan may have watched the Red Wings, and scarcely noticed “Crimson Five.” There was an occasion several seasons ago, where our resident bull dog, Tomas Holmstrom, suffered an injury that sidelined him for weeks. “Shit, Holmstrom is out for like three weeks”, I said to someone who claimed to be a lover of hockey. “Man, that sucks”, this person replied. “Holmstrom is a good defenseman.”
The above exchange definitely bothered me, as I hope it bothers you, but it would not bother our captain. Nothing did. Not a broken ankle, not playoff disappointments, nothing. At least, that is the impression he gave us. No matter what was happening, the calm, unflinching gaze of our dear leader never changed. I have no memory of Nick ever looking upset, raising his voice, swearing or complaining to the referees or opposing players. That is why seeing him fight back a surge of emotion made his retirement announcement infinitely more difficult to watch. When Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov said goodbye to Detroit, we had numbers 13 and 40 ready, willing and able to become our stars up the middle. We have no such player to replace number 5. Players like Lidstrom do not come once in a generation. They come only once.
Nick represents the best that human beings have to offer. A person of unmatched excellence and elegance. He made me want to be better than I am. I did not list his accolades because we all know them. I will not call this an “end of an era” because we have heard that said ad nauseam. But I will refer to him by his popular nickname. This “Perfect Human” leaves a hole in our roster, but not in our hearts.
Tribute videos with “Coldplay” whining in the background are obnoxious. The sound of the game is music enough, so I’ve posted a video I enjoyed below. So long, Nick. We will miss you dearly.
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