By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings legend Nicklas Lidstrom has said he will try to hold together his emotions as he watches the team add his number to the collection of retired ones in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena Thursday night.
Drafted by Detroit in 1989, Lidstrom spent his entire 20-year career with the Red Wings. A 10-time First-Team All-Star, Lidstrom won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings – 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 – and received the Norris Trophy seven times.
Lidstrom’s No. 5 will join the numbers of Terry Sawchuck (No. 1), Ted Lindsay (No. 7), Gordie Howe (No. 9), Alex Delvecchio (No. 10), Sid Abel (No. 12) and Steve Yzerman (No. 19) in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena prior to Thursday’s game.
On 97.1 The Ticket Thursday morning, Lidstrom said when he first signed a three-year NHL deal, he thought he could be successful but figured he could always go back to Sweden if his career did not pan out. He never imagined, however, that his number would one day join the banners hanging in the Joe Louis Arena rafters, a place Lidstrom looked up at almost every practice.
“It never ever crossed my mind that something like this would happen,” Lidstrom said. “Having my jersey up in the rafters? No way!”
If he does end up tearing up a bit, Lidstrom knows the feelings will stem from the many memories and former teammates in attendance. He said he would like to see one of those other former greats, Vladimir Konstantinov, get some recognition as well.
“Vladdy, he had a special career,” Lidstrom said. “We all knew what kind of player he was. We came in the same time, and I remember Dave Lewis, our assistant coach, telling us why, he’ll go through their depth, the opponent’s lineup, and [he’d say], ‘Careful with this guy, this is a tough guy, he’s a skill guy, don’t touch this guy.’
“And Vladdy was the first guy to run [over] and run the guy that you shouldn’t touch,” Lidstrom added with a laugh. “He was a tough, tough player. I think it would be nice for him to have something done because even though his career wasn’t as long as the rest of us, he had a special career with the Wings.”
Another former teammate Lidstrom talked about Thursday was Sergei Fedorov, who at one time was dating Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova. Surprisingly, Lidstrom said the players did not give Fedorov as much grief – Kournikova is known as much for her looks as she is for her tennis skills – as one might expect.
“We tried to be careful around Sergei about it at that time because we wanted him to play so well,” Lidstrom said, again with a bit of a laugh. “When we were traveling, I was his roommate for seven or eight years. When they were together, he was on the phone in the middle of the night. I could wake up and hear someone talking under the sheets, and there’s Sergei talking to Anna over in Russia. We wanted him to play as well as he could, so we kind of let him do his thing.”
The celebrations of Stanley Cups, of course, are among some of Lidstrom’s most lasting memories. While each one meant something, he said the first one might be the most special, looking back.
“We went to the finals in ’95, we had a great, great season, and we lost in four straight games, and you wondered, are you ever going to get a chance to be back in the Stanley Cup Finals?” Lidstrom said. “And then ’96 we had a great team, we lost in the conference finals … Finally reaching that milestone, winning the Cup in ’97, was special. The parade was unreal as well, seeing all the people coming downtown, old men crying and thanking you for bringing the Stanley Cup back in 40-some years, that’s a special moment.
“Each one of them is special in their own way – ’98 was special because of Vladdy, the accident Vladdy and [teammate Slava] Fetisov and [team massage therapist Sergei] Mnatsakanov were in, ’02 that unbelievable team we had, and ’08 I was the captain,” Lidstrom continued. “So they’re all special in their own way, but ’97 I think sticks out the most.”
As far as whether recalling all those moments will indeed bring him to tears Thursday, Lidstrom said he hoped not, but couldn’t rule out the possibility of some waterworks.
“I might. I remembered my press conference when I announced my retirement,” Lidstrom said. “I tried to keep everything intact, but it was hard … I don’t plan on bringing any tissues, but I might have to.”
The Red Wings announced Wednesday that team owners Mike and Marian Ilitich would not be attending the ceremony due to Mike’s health. Lidstrom said that while he has not spoken with “Mr. and Mrs. I,” he spoke with their son Chris.