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Lidstrom: It catches up to everyone

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Nicklas Lidstrom questions a question from the media during his announcement that after 20 seasons he is retiring from the game. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

DETROIT – After 1,564 career regular-season games and four Stanley Cups, Nicklas Lidstrom announced on Thursday that he is retiring from the game that he made look so easy for 20 incredible NHL seasons.

In a prepared statement of more than 2,100-words, Lidstrom, who on occasion fought back tears, told a standing room crowd inside the C.C. Olympia Club at Joe Louis Arena that he no longer possesses the will or motivation to return for one more year with the Red Wings.

A seven-time winner of the Norris Trophy, Lidstrom is by far the greatness defenseman of his generation, and only second to Gordie Howe in the number of games played in Red Wings’ history.

Like a fine wine, he got better with age, earning his first Norris Trophy when he was 31-year-old and becoming the oldest defenseman in league history to record a hat trick in a game, which also happened to be the first, and only, of his career, in 2010.

So much has been written and said about Lidstrom, the 35th team captain in franchise history, but here, in his own words, is what Lidstrom had to say during the opening remarks of his news conference to announce his retirement:

“I’d like to thank everyone for coming today, for coming down to the Joe Louis Arena for this announcement. Today, after 20 seasons as a player for the Detroit Red Wings, I am announcing my retirement. Before I get into thanking everyone, I’d like to make a few comments about retirement.

“At some point in time, it catches up to everyone, it diminishes their ability to perform some things you love and care about passionately. It comes to an end sooner than what you would have liked. The last few years, I waited until after the season was over to assess my ability to play another year. I need to let a few weeks go by to get a reading on my body’s ability to recover from the grind of an NHL season. Sadly, this year it’s painfully obvious to me that my strength and energy levels are not rebounding enough for me to continue to play. My drive and motivation are not where they need to be to play at this level. That’s why I feel like it’s time to retire.

“I’m aware that some people think that my skills have only diminished some and that I can still help the Wings win games. I truly appreciate their support. When I signed with the Wings back in ’91, I never envisioned myself playing for 20 years. It’s been a great, great ride.

“The Red Wings drafted me back in 1989 and hundreds of players and people and coaches have been part of my success. I never thought this would ever come to something like this – that I would be able to be part of Stanley Cup Championships, winning Norris trophies, having parades through downtown Detroit. It’s something I never even thought about.

“I’d like to thank some of the people that are here. I can’t thank everyone that I’ve played with that have been part of my career, the press conference is not that long, but I’d like to mention a few people that have been a part of my career here in Detroit.

“I’d like to start with Mr. and Mrs. I and Chris Ilitch, the ownership of the Red Wings, for their support over the years, over 20 years. Their passion for the game, they’re willing to invest and put everything they have into the game, their product, to get something good on the ice and try to win. They’ve been tremendous owners, great support for me and my family and I’m truly thankful for what they’ve done for us.

“I’d like to thank Kenny (Holland), Jim Nill, Jimmy Devellano, and Ryan Martin for their support over the years. They’ve always tried to put a good product on the ice. They’re always telling me we’re going to do whatever we can to win another championship. Kenny and I have had some what he calls fireside chats where I’ve told him – this probably started maybe 10, 12, maybe 14 years ago – that I do have an agent, I’m not willing to negotiate with you. But he said this is not a negotiation, we’re just going to sit down and chat and talk and he laid out his game plan and his sales pitch and Kenny, it worked every time. You know, I never even wanted to leave Detroit. I always believed that this team, this organization could do what it took to win another Stanley Cup. I’m very thankful for that.

“I’d like to thank some of the coaches I’ve had over the years. Starting in Sweden, when I was 16 I moved away from home and I got a coach named Par Marts that took care of me and I think started guiding me in the right direction to become a solid hockey player. He now is the coach for the Swedish national team.

“Curt Lundmark was another coach that I’ve had that, growing up, especially in junior hockey, guided me as well in the right direction. Bengt-Ake Gustafsson was another coach I had in the 2006 Olympics when we had the chance to win the gold medal. He was also a player, a friend as well, when we won the World Championships in ’91.

“I’d like to thank Bryan Murray for being my first coach in the NHL, kind of getting me in the door, giving me the opportunity to play over here. He partnered me with Brad McCrimmon my first year, we played every game together. So I’m very thankful for what Bryan did for me early on in my career.

“Scotty Bowman came in and I think took my game to another level. He gave me a lot of confidence by playing me a lot, getting me out on the ice and really pushed me to become a better player. And that gave me a ton of confidence to succeed and excel in my career and the way I was playing.

“Alongside Dave Lewis and Barry Smith, the other two, that was very important to my career. I think Lewie was my assistant coach my first year, actually my first 13 years, and he taught me how to play D, how to be a solid two-way defenseman. Not just thinking about the offense and being part of the power play, but playing sound defensively in your own zone, not being overly physical, but doing the job to get it done.

“Mike Babcock coming in along with Todd McLellan, Paul MacLean, and later Brad McCrimmon, I think Babs continued to give me the confidence. He showed me and helped me to become a leader on this team. He put me out in all the key situations that forced me, and that’s something I wanted, to stay at the level where I wanted to be. I was getting up there in age, I was 36, 37, and I wanted to continue to play at the high level, the top level at that next game, that next opportunity. Every night he relied on me and put me out there in situations that I had a chance to succeed in so I’m very grateful for that.

“I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years with the Wings and you know, starting with some of the alumni we see every now and again coming through our locker room, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe … guys that if you look around, even in this room, you see a lot of pictures, and we see that in our locker room too. [Guys] that meant a lot for this organization back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, that they kind of showed the way how to play Red Wings hockey and I think just even for the current players to have those guys come in, to give them the opportunity to talk some memories, explain how the game was played back then, just having that chance to chit-chat with them I think just was really important and I’m really thankful for that, and that they’ve been part of this organization for so many years.

“I’ve played with some great teammates over the years. They’ve been great friends as well and the best players to hope for. Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Igor Larionov, (Dominik) Hasek, Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, (Kirk) Maltby, (Darren) McCarty, (Sergei) Fedorov, (Dino) Ciccarelli, you can go down the list with Hall of Famers to future Hall of Famers that’s been a pleasure for me to play with. They taught me a lot of things that I think I needed to get to the level where I wanted to be. You need good teammates around you and they’ve been that.

“I have my current teammates, some of them are here, (Tomas) Holmstrom, (Niklas) Kronwall is here, I saw (Todd) Bertuzzi, (Justin) Abdelkader, (Danny) Cleary is here, a lot of the guys I might not get through everyone that’s here, but the current team I believe is a very solid team. We didn’t get it done this year for some obvious reasons, but I really like the core group that the Wings have in the locker room right now.

“I’d like to thank our trainers Piet, Russ, Pauly, J.R., Chica and our doctors. They kind of work in the background, you don’t see them a whole lot but they kind of make everything work. You’re hurt, you’ve got your bumps and bruises, but they’re taking care of you. I remember a couple years ago I had a knee surgery in mid-August so the first day I came back the doctors had surgery on my knee right away and they took care of me right away. Piet came to my house a couple days after, started doing rehab. We’re talking mid-August, we’re not back in September, we’re not back in training camp. They’re willing to sacrifice their time for the players to get back on the ice and perform to their best abilities so I’m very thankful for that as well.

Nicklas Lidstrom receives a hug from Red Wings owner Marian Ilitch after the NHL legend announced his retirement Thursday morning. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

“And from our ownership to all my teammates to everyone here from Al who takes care of the ice, Frank who comes up and fills the fridge with water bottles, Leslie serving us lunch, all the ushers and the people around that you don’t see on an every day basis, but you see them when you come out during games or when you’re here for different events, I want to thank those people too, who help me and my family, for taking care of my family when they’re coming to games, making sure they’re comfortable. And for Annika whose been coming to games with the boys for, she’s been coming for over 20 years, so she knows a lot of them personally and they’re very nice to my family and I want to extend my gratitude to them as well.

“I want to thank media for being real professional to me, and I’ve tried to show respect to you. I’ve tried to be available as much as I can. Sometimes you can’t tell everything that’s going on, but I’m sure you understand that you don’t want everything to come out. I’ve tried to treat you with respect and I felt that I got that back from you guys so I appreciate that.

“Our fans … when I was injured here late in the season, I had watched a few games up in the press box. When you’re sitting up there, you get a better feel of when you’re closer to the fans – to feel how passionate they are. When you’re on the ice, you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re focused on the game and you can hear the fans, but you’re so focused on what you’re doing on the ice. But when you’re up in the stands or up in the press box, you can feel how passionate they are. We’re very fortunate as a team and as players to have those fans behind us. And we’ve seen them during the parades and different charity events that we have as a team, fans are a big part of this organization, a big part of Hockeytown.

“To my family … my Annika and my three boys here – Samuel, Lucas and Adam. My son Kevin, he’s over in Sweden, he’ll be here over in a couple days, he couldn’t make it out here today, but I’d like to thank my family and especially Annika for raising four boys. It’s not easy when you have a husband that’s not home all of the time, that’s not doing a nine to five job, that’s not coming home and being there to take the kids to their activities, you know, their events. There’s homework, there’s dinners to be made, and Annika’s been doing all of that. She has been amazing. She’s an amazing woman.

“I take a lot of pride in what I’ve done here over the last 20 years. I take a lot of pride in how hard I’ve worked, how I’ve prepared for games, representing my country in different Olympics or World Championships and representing Detroit – not just the Red Wings, but the city itself too. We see a lot of fans when we travel around North America and they’ve shown us great respect so I take a lot of pride in being a Red Wing but also being a player that comes from Detroit.

“It’s not that the tank is completely empty – it just doesn’t have enough to carry me through every day at that high level where I want to play at. My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision. Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride, rather than having the game walk away from me. So, thank you very much.”

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