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Lidstrom first European captain to hoist Cup

by Brian Compton

Red Wings' captain Nicklas Lidstrom made history Wednesday night when Detroit won the 2008 Stanley Cup Final with a 3-2 victory over the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
Lidstrom press conference
PITTSBURGH -- It was only a matter of time before a European captain hoisted the Stanley Cup, but perhaps it's fitting that Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom became the very first.

The Red Wings' captain made history Wednesday night when Detroit won the 2008 Stanley Cup Final with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. Lidstrom, who has spent his entire career in Motown, replaced Steve Yzerman as the Red Wings' captain when the latter retired in 2006.

"It's a tremendous honor and I'm very proud to be the first (European) captain," Lidstrom said with a bottle of champagne in his hand. "I'm very proud of the whole team, too. People said you can't win with Europeans, and we proved people wrong. As long as we can skate well and as long as we can be tough to play against, you can still play. I think we've shown that."

Despite his age (38), Lidstrom remains arguably the top defenseman in the NHL. The five-time Norris Trophy winner (he'll likely win his sixth next week) had 13 points during the Red Wings' run to their fourth Stanley Cup championship in 11 seasons and had 70 points in 76 games with a plus-40 rating during the regular season.

But Lidstrom has always put up incredibly numbers. It's the way he took over the duties of captain so smoothly after Yzerman retired that just adds to his aura.

He is a superstar in every possible way.

"I love that guy," Red Wings forward Aaron Downey said. "I'd go through a brick wall for that guy. I'd run out in traffic for that guy. He's such a great, graceful, humble man. He doesn't get too excited about anything. He just carries the same attitude every day. He's a great family guy and he cares a lot about his teammates and the fans. That's what the leadership is about with him. You know what … if Nick decides to get on the line and give himself a little bit of a bag skate after practice, 15 other guys join him without him saying a word. That's the effect he has."

Naturally, one of his duties as a captain is to speak up when something needed to be addressed. While it may have been a little uncomfortable at first, Lidstrom doesn't experience much difficulty in that department these days.

And when he has something to say, the Wings' dressing room is all ears.

"I think I'm more vocal, especially in the room, maybe than I was in the past as assistant captain," Lidstrom said. "I try to talk to some of the younger players a little bit more and encourage them and try to help them out a little bit. The same thing on the back end, too, with my defensive partners … you want to be a little bit more vocal and try and help them out."

Niklas Kronwall -- who, like Lidstrom, is Swedish -- has admired his teammate for several years. While Lidstrom isn't the only European captain in the League, Kronwall believes what transpired Wednesday night could be only the beginning.

"I think it just opens up even more doors," Kronwall said. "With him being the best defenseman in the game for many, many years, I think that opened up many, many doors for guys like myself and other Swedish defensemen."

Of course, Lidstrom needed help to reach this point, but he got there with several Europeans by his side. Fellow countryman Henrik Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is a Selke Trophy candidate as one of the game's top defensive forwards. Pavel Datsyuk, a native of Russia, is also up for the Selke and was an alternate captain.

Clearly, times have changed. North American players are not the only ones who are leaders -- evidenced by Lidstrom's historic moment Wednesday night.
"I don't know who thinks they're not … that's ridiculous," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of European players. "You're living in the past if you believe that. Nick's as good a leader as there is in this sport. He may be the best player in the world.
Zetterberg's a phenomenal leader, Datsyuk's a phenomenal leader. Don't tell me it's just from one place."

Being the team guy that he is, Lidstrom quickly deflected some of the credit to his teammates. Besides Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom became four-time Stanley Cup winners for Detroit Wednesday night.

Combine that with the likes of other veterans such as Chris Chelios and Dallas Drake, and Lidstrom certainly had plenty of options when it came to bouncing ideas on the ice or in the dressing room.

"I have lots of great help from the veteran players that we have on our team," Lidstrom said. "Chris Chelios has been a captain before. Dallas Drake has been a captain. Draper has been around for a long time, and Maltby. It helps my job to have experienced players around me."

Not as much as it helps the younger players to have such a world-class talent to learn the ropes of playing in the NHL. For Kronwall, it's been a dream come true.

"I think Nick is one of those guys … when you have a chance to be on a team with a guy like that, it helps you to grow as a hockey player, and as a person as well," Kronwall said.

Mark Messier, who captained the New York Rangers to their only championship in the last 68 years back in 1994, knows a thing or two about the responsibilities of wearing the "C." When it comes to Lidstrom, Messier is highly impressed.        

"He is the prototypical leader by example," Messier said. "I don't know Nick well enough to talk about what he does behind the scenes, but if you talk about a leader, a consistent leader and leading by example, he's a prototypical guy like that because he plays consistent. He is the same guy game in and game out. He's a guy that is consistent in his personality. He had some tough shoes to fill with Yzerman leaving, and he stepped in there and they haven't missed a beat."

Indeed they haven't. It's a good thing the Red Wings had European scout Hakan Andersson around in the late 1980s, when Lidstrom first arrived on the hockey scene.

"You know what they call him? The perfect human," Andersson told "You guys want to find things to write about, but the way he plays, it takes you a while to realize how good he is. Other players have come to Detroit and said, 'Until I played along with him game after game, I never realized how good he is.' There is never a mistake, but he doesn't do the flashy rushes like Bobby Orr used to do. He's at his best when you don't notice him. We've said that many times in the organization. You can take a situation where you look back on video and see he put it on the glass. When you look back at the video again, you see there was no other option. He always makes the right decision."

The Red Wings certainly did when they were searching for Yzerman's replacement as captain. Now that a European captain has hoisted the Stanley Cup, Lidstrom believes more will follow -- and sooner rather than later.

"I think you've seen (European) captains before I won it that's been big impact players on their teams," Lidstrom said. "I might be the first one to win it, but I think you're going to see more coming. You see a lot of Europeans being assistant captains and captains and being impact players throughout the League."

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