By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – From a big black box that billowed smoke and flashed red and white lights, a pristine red banner emerged, and No. 5 ascended gracefully, regally, to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena as Nicklas Lidstrom, his family, former teammates, other hockey greats and thousands of Red Wings fans looked on.
The hour-long ceremony concluded with Lidstrom as only the seventh player in 88 years whose number the Red Wings have retired. When Lidstrom first approached the podium Thursday night, the rousing sounds of a standing ovation drowned out the great defenseman’s first attempt to begin his speech.
Ever gracious, Lidstrom paused and smiled. The roar of the fans continued, on and on and on.
Lidstrom accomplished plenty in his 20-year career: four Stanley Cups, 12 All-Star selections, seven Norris Trophies and other honors. Having his jersey retired, though, meant something else entirely.
“This is different,” Lidstrom said, looking out at the crowd. “This is all about being a Detroit Red Wing.”
Lidstrom spoke less about his accomplishments than about the people who surrounded him those two decades. He connected that glorious past to the present. As Lidstrom tells it, fellow Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman’s leadership preceded Lidstrom’s time as the team’s leader, and Lidstrom’s tenure in turn helped inform the current locker room leadership of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – each set of Detroit’s best players training their successors.
By all accounts, Lidstrom set one of the best examples an organization could imagine.
Nicknamed “The Perfect Human” for how he conducted himself and went about business on the ice and off the ice, Lidstrom has long been revered as a family man and professional – and excellent in both regards.
“Beyond humble, no-maintenance, led by example, did it right every day,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said at the ceremony. “Attention to detail is what he was … Nick Lidstrom is a true role model. He’s someone for our community, for Hockeytown, to trust, to admire, to respect.
“Nick’s going look great up there next to Stevie,” Babcock added, referencing the future place of the No. 5 banner next to Yzerman’s No. 19 in the lineup in the rafters. “Enjoy it. You earned it.”
The ceremony that paid homage to Lidstrom also served as a reminder of the club’s rich history, so grandiose it can hardly help but envelop, almost overshadow, even its best and brightest stars.
As might be expected, Lidstrom fully embraced that aspect of the festivities. He spoke extensively and glowingly of Yzerman, and he invoked memories of another Red Wings great when he shared the story of how he got No. 5.
When he first came over to try a career in the NHL after playing in his native Sweden, clubhouse staff asked Lidstrom what number he wanted to wear if he made the team. Lidstrom answered that he wore number No. 9 in Sweden.
Unwittingly, Lidstrom had asked for a number that was already in the rafters.
“Kid, that ain’t gonna happen,” he was told. No. 9, of course, already belonged eternally to Gordie Howe. When Lidstrom did indeed make the team, he just took the number they gave him – No. 5.
Now No. 5 is in the rafters, too, another integral part of Red Wings lore. Long regarded as one of the best defensemen ever, Lidstrom now belongs to Detroit forever, enshrined in Joe Louis Arena as visible part of Red Wings legacy.
The ceremony revolved around Lidstrom, but it recalled much more than just the last 20 years. The program began by recognizing the men whose numbers are already retired – Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuck, Yzerman and Sid Abel, most of whom were either present or represented by family members. Wings fans applauded loudly for each former player as statistics were read and highlight reels played.
More introductions included many of Lidstrom’s former teammates in attendance – including Vladimir Konstantinov, who was injured in the prime of his career in a car accident and is now mostly confined to a wheelchair.
A roar burst forth from the crowd immediately upon mention of Konstantinov, and as he clapped too, the crowd got louder, and a standing ovation began. Fans cheered, “Vlad-dy! Vlad-dy! Vlad-dy! Vlad-dy!” Konstantinov waved to the crowd, and with assistance and effort, he stood up, and he waved for all he was worth. The applause in Joe Louis swelled to a new high, audible appreciation for another great former Red Wing in a long list of them.
Konstantinov played with Lidstrom, helped bring the Stanley Cup back to Detroit in 1997. Eventually, Lidstrom would capture three more Stanley Cups for Hockeytown, and the Red Wings did not once miss the playoffs with him in uniform.
To summarily characterize Lidstrom, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland turned to a song, a Tina Turner tune.
How to explain Nick Lidstrom? In the words of Tina, “Simply the Best.”