LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Nicklas Lidstrom retired Thursday after 20 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, ending one of the best careers in NHL history.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman fought back tears as he made the announcement.
“My drive and motivation are not where they to need to be to play at this level,” Lidstrom said.
The 42-year-old Swede set an NHL record by playing 1,564 games with a single team. He had put retirement on hold in each of the previous two years by signing one-year contracts.
“I’ve been dreading this day since I became manager in 1997,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
Lidstrom had 34 points and a plus-21 rating that ranked among the league leaders last season. He had 264 career goals with 1,142 points and a 450-plus rating. After being incredibly durable for 19 seasons, he missed a career-high 11 games with a bruised right ankle and was out for another game with the flu.
“That didn’t sway me one way or another,” Lidstrom said. “A couple weeks after the season is over, you start working out. Once I started doing that I didn’t have the push I need and I can’t cheat myself.”
He plans to move his family to Sweden and hopes to have an off-ice role with the Red Wings.
“Retiring today allows me to walk away with pride, rather than have the game walk away from me,” said Lidstrom, whose oldest of four sons went to Sweden two years ago to attend school and play hockey.
Lidstrom was named the NHL’s best defenseman last year for a seventh time, matching Doug Harvey’s total and trailing Bobby Orr’s record by one. When Lidstrom won his final Norris Trophy last summer, he was a finalist for the 11th time in 13 seasons.
Defenseman Brad Stuart, who was his teammate the past four-plus seasons, said he was amazed at Lidstrom’s ability to make the right play on almost every shift game after game.
“I’ve played with great players who made mistakes, but I can’t think of one game when I thought, ‘Nick just didn’t have it tonight,'” Stuart said during this year’s one-series postseason. “He’s that same, steady, amazing defenseman every night. I think I’ve seen him out of breath maybe three or four times in a few years because he’s so smart, he gets himself in the right position to make a play.”
The four-time Olympian also scored the gold-medal winning goal for Sweden over Finland in 2006. He became the first European-born captain to win a Stanley Cup in 2008, six years after being the first from Europe to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP.
His 6-foot-2, 190-pound body is chiseled thanks to a year-round workout that includes exercise before practice and after games along with a sensible diet that includes only occasional slices of pizza and fast food. Lidstrom’s teammates call him “The Perfect Human,” in part because he’s as humble as he is successful on the ice.
“It’s one of the most emotional days in Red Wings history with Nick retiring and all you people showing your respect for such a high-quality individual,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said at a packed news conference that included a slew of team employees wearing Lidstrom’s No. 5 red jersey with a winged wheel.
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