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Lidstrom putting Yzerman's lessons to good use

Wednesday, 12.03.2008 / 9:00 AM / Captains, Driven by Bridgestone

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Nicklas Lidstrom couldn't have found a better mentor. Steve Yzerman couldn't have had a better successor. And the Detroit Red Wings couldn't have asked for anything better.

Since 1986, the Red Wings have had only two players wear the coveted "C," and the two captains, first Yzerman for 19 seasons and now Lidstrom in his third, are quite alike, except if you forget they're from opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean.

For 19 seasons, every player who wore the winged wheel on his chest followed Yzerman's every move. Ever since, Lidstrom has a crowded group of Red Wings holding onto his coat tails and enjoying the ride.

Learn more about Lidstrom on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m., when he is the subject of "Captains Driven By Bridgestone," a 20-part original series on the NHL Network.

"Just from Stevie being captain for 15 years when I was playing with him, I learned a lot by watching him up close," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "He wasn't a vocal leader. He wouldn't have the big rah-rah speeches, but he would say the right things at the right time and he would back it up. He would do it on the ice. That's something I try to do, lead by example. That's probably the biggest thing I learned from Stevie."

By the time Yzerman retired, Lidstrom was a 15-year veteran with three Stanley Cup rings and four Norris trophies. He also was an alternate captain since 1998.

According to Yzerman, Lidstrom was the natural choice to be his successor.   

"I don't know that there is any one personality that makes a guy a better captain than another or a good leader for that matter, but he is, first and foremost, a tremendous hockey player that is consistently reliable," Yzerman told NHL.com. "And how he conducts himself, his personality, has not changed from Day 1. He was a quiet guy then and he remains a quiet guy, but he's a very intelligent guy and everything he does is by example. It was just a natural transition for him. He's the obvious guy to lead our team."

While Yzerman couldn't remember if upon seeing Lidstrom for the first time in his rookie season of 1991-92 that he sensed No. 5 was captain material, he does remember that there was nothing unnatural about Lidstrom.

Yzerman knows best that to be a good captain you have to be yourself. Lidstrom has never strayed from his comfort zone throughout his entire career.

"Hockey players are bright guys and you can't be something you're not," Yzerman said. "I think for Nick, he wasn't going to change his personality. It's not in him and he shouldn't be that way. He's a smart guy, and when he talks and says something, you respect what he has to say. He puts thought into things and he's a bright guy."

As a result, Yzerman used Lidstrom for his opinion all the time when he was captain.

 
 
"I would refer to Nick on situations to reaffirm my opinion or to get his so I could make up my own opinion," Yzerman said. "That's how he's used by our coach (Mike Babcock) and (GM) Ken Holland: 'What does Nick think?'"

Even though all signs pointed to Lidstrom eventually stitching the "C" to his sweater, it never was his intention to become an NHL team captain. For the longest time it wasn't even an option for him.

"I became an assistant captain in '98, but we always had Steve as our captain, our leader and the face for the franchise," Lidstrom said. "He had been here for so long that it felt like he would be there forever."

It wasn't until Yzerman's final season that Lidstrom realized he could be next. Babcock was in his first season as the Wings' coach and Lidstrom said he was bouncing ideas off both him and Yzerman. That was a first, Lidstrom said.

"Babcock came in, and being the first-year coach, he was talking to me a little more than the previous coaches did so maybe I realized it then that he would look at me at being the captain," Lidstrom said. "It didn't materialize until Stevie retired."

Lidstrom officially was named captain right before the Red Wings' 2006-07 season-opener. All he's done since is win two more Norris trophies and become the first European-born captain to raise the Stanley Cup, which he did in June.

"It's something special being the first European captain to win it," Lidstrom said. "I think back to when I came into the League, you didn't see many European captains. You saw the odd assistant captain. It's a special feeling to be that first one."

In Lidstrom's mind, being captain of these Wings can't be like being captain of any other team. Detroit's veteran presence alone allows him to be just one of the guys -- at least most of the time.

"Being the captain of the Red Wings, it helps having the veteran team that we have," Lidstrom said. "I get a lot of help from those guys. I don't feel it's all on my shoulders to say all the right things at the right time. I get help all the time."

There are times -- like this past February, when the Wings were going through a prolonged slump and were battling a slew of injuries, including an unlikely one to Lidstrom that kept him out of six games -- that No. 5 stepped up with his words.

"We were struggling and I was hurt for a bit, too," Lidstrom said. "When things aren't going well something needs to be said, and not just from the coaches. I called a team meeting and said a few things we had to do better."

It wasn't rah-rah and it wasn't really loud, either. That's just not Lidstrom's style.

It was, however, quite effective.

After losing 10 of 11 games from Feb. 7-29, the Red Wings tore through the rest of the regular season with a 12-3-1 record and then marched through the playoffs with only six losses.

"I'm more vocal in the locker room now than in the past," Lidstrom said. "We have always had a veteran team in Detroit, but I think that's the role they wanted me to play. They wanted me to be more of a leader that way and I became more of a leader."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh