By Michael Caples –
In October, the Detroit Red Wings will embark on their first season without Nick Lidstrom in two decades.
The former captain is on his way back to his native Sweden. Yet his presence in Michigan – what he has meant to the growth and exposure of hockey in our state – will continue to live on.
The impact he’s had on all the players, all the fans, and everyone in Michigan, I don’t know if you can measure the impact that he’s had,” said Red Wings forward and Muskegon native Justin Abdelkader. “He’s going to go down as one of the greatest NHL players of all-time, and obviously one of the greatest Red Wings players of all-time.
“I think everyone is so impressed with everything he’s done – the Norris Trophies, the All-Star games, the Stanley Cups – but me knowing him as a person, I’m just as impressed with him as an individual. How he carries himself in the community, in the locker room, everywhere when he’s out in public, even when he’s in the locker room as a leader – he’s just such a great individual. He’s a great person.”
Throughout the days surrounding his retirement announcement, Lidstrom’s character was on full display. He graciously thanked everyone he could during his press conference. He took the stage at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert to address the fans. And in an ad purchased in the Detroit Free Press, he told everyone in Michigan how much he appreciated them helping him raise a family in Michigan, and that he would always consider himself to be both from Sweden, and from Detroit.
Lidstrom was a fixture around ice rinks in metro Detroit – or at least as much as a professional athlete can be – while raising his four hockey-playing sons. Much of that time was spent at Novi Ice Arena, so much so that the city named the nearest street after him.
Novi Ice Arena general manager Kris Barnes said that “The Perfect Human” label Lidstrom received during his time with the Wings carried over outside of pro hockey.
“Nick’s just a great hockey dad,” Barnes said. “He watched practice, helped his kids get dressed, and volunteered a lot of his time to help out our youth hockey association and the community. He was always available for kids looking for an autograph and even stopped to pose for pictures on occasion. He was great for the sport and we will definitely miss him around the rink.”
Former NHL player and Honeybaked hockey coach Jeff Mitchell experienced the hockey dad side of Lidstrom while he coached his son, Lucas, this past season. Mitchell, a Wayne native and third-round pick by Los Angeles in 1993, was taken aback by how humble Lidstrom was, even after experiencing the NHL stage himself.
“He was a good guy to get to know,” Mitchell said. “I played at that level and everything, and had an opportunity to meet a lot of guys, and you know, Nick and Holmstrom, they’re probably the two most humble guys I’ve ever met and easy to talk to. He became just one of the fathers on the team. But he also takes time for others. He’s never one to turn down a little kid for an autograph, you know?
“Looking at the whole picture, he’s been instrumental to the growth of the game. The Red Wings have been such a dominant team for such a long team, and he’s been a huge part of that. And just the way he carries himself both on and off the ice.”
Red Wings forward Drew Miller echoed the same sentiments as Mitchell after the Lidstrom retirement press conference. The Lansing native said that the Wings’ captain proved to be the perfect player for kids to grow up trying to imitate on and off the ice.
“Definitely in Michigan, I think a lot of players grow up idolizing him – try to emulate how he plays on the ice,” Miller said. “I think from a ‘hero’ standpoint, a lot of young kids are into hockey, continue to play hockey, because of him.”