TORONTO -- Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov was overcome with emotion on Thursday morning when asked here at the Westin Bristol Place hotel about the playing career of former Detroit Red Wings teammate Nicklas Lidstrom.
But a bloodshot Larionov, who teamed with Lidstrom for eight seasons in Detroit, certainly found the right words when discussing his good friend and his decision to retire from the game following two glorious decades.
"He set the example for the young guys and everyone in the League on how to behave on and off the ice and how to play the game," Larionov told NHL.com. "It's not just muscle and toughness, but smarts, and that's what he brought each and every night."
Larionov was in town for the NHL Scouting Combine as the player agent for two of the top draft-eligible prospects this year in Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. He understands what Lidstrom might be going through and what the future undoubtedly has in store -- Larionov announced his retirement in 2004 at the age of 42.
Lidstrom turned 42 on April 28.
"You play the game for so long," Larionov said. "In the next year or two, he'll begin to feel it. His body and mind are used to going to work in September, and then all of sudden, after 20 years, camp starts and you're sitting home, taking kids to school. It's strange because training camp opens and exhibition games are taking place and you're not there or a part of it.
NHL Players' Nicklas Lidstrom Tweets
- Viktor Stalberg (@VStalberg)
Seems like it will be a bit easier to play vs the wings next year. What a career he's had! One of the all time greats #5
- Cameron Fowler (@camfowler4)
I want to wish a happy retirement to Nick Lidstrom, my idol growing up and the classiest act in the game. What a great career
- Michael Del Zotto (@MichaelDelZotto)
What a career for Lidstrom. Bobby Orr and him top 2 defenseman to play. #classact #morepatiencethanahospital
- John Carlson (@JohnCarlson74)
Sad to see Nick Lidstrom retire. One of the games all time greats on and off the ice. A guy that everyone can learn from.
- Steven Kampfer (@SteveKampfer47)
Hard to imagine watching the Red Wings without Lidstrom. Guy was my idol and still is as a player and person. #playedthegamethebestway
"That will be an interesting transition for him, but at the same time, he'll look back and see how much fun, success, experience and knowledge about the game he gained from so many coaches and a few generations' worth of players. I think it's remarkable."
His memories of Lidstrom, the player, will never be forgotten.
"When you have a player like that, who you line up on the power play or five-on-five, that you can rely on in any situation, it's huge," Larionov said. "You knew he was going to make the right play and the right pass. You knew he would jump to the offense or fake the jump and stay back … he knew those things. To do it consistently for 20 years, in every single game … amazing."
Larionov played in 921 regular-season games spanning 14 seasons, finishing with 644 points. He also won three Stanley Cups -- all with the Red Wings.
"Nick is a big example for any hockey player today on how to prepare for games, how to be mentally ready and how to leave past success and move forward to be successful," Larionov said. "Some guys gain success and stop working, but Nick was never like that. He was always a very humble guy and every time he was on the ice, he would play at a high level, always steady."
Larionov played with Lidstrom from 1995-96 through 2002-03. He said there was never a time when the big Swede really stood out from the crowd off the ice.
"All the Swedes in Detroit were great guys, but we'd just have fun together going out and sharing a glass of wine and maybe a nice piece of steak," Larionov said. "Usually, Tomas Holmstrom was the funny guy and Nick was always quiet … he'd watch everyone else and just smile.
"In some ways, that's the way he played. You don't recall that flash, although he would score a couple of goals. But each time he touched the puck, he made the right decision. So both on and off the ice, he had the same personality. Just very consistent and smart … and one of the most reliable teammates I've ever played with."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale