DETROIT – Dave Lewis played in over 1,000 games as a defenseman with four different NHL teams. But it was the teaching that he did from behind the Red Wings’ bench, which garnered praise from a shoo-in Hall-of-Famer as he made his retirement speech on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
“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,” said Nicklas Lidstrom, as he delivered his 2,100-word speech. “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.”
Lewis, who was the Wings head coach for two seasons after Scotty Bowman retired following the 2002 Stanley Cup season, was humbled by Lidstrom’s comments, saying, “The only thing I did was make sure the door was open for him to get on the ice.”
Modesty aside, hockey has taken Lewis around the world from the NHL to the international stage when he was an assistant coach for Belarus at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But while his coaching scenery has changed over the years, one thing has remained constant.
“Since I left Detroit, I coached in Boston, L.A., Carolina, Belarus at the Olympics and the Ukraine,” Lewis said. “Everywhere I go the players ask me about the level of play of Nick Lidstrom and how does he do it. It's a world-wide phenomenon, not just an NHL thing.”
Lidstrom’s even-keel personality is what Lewis – and quite honestly everyone who has ever met the seven-time Norris Trophy winner – considers as one of his greatest strengths.
Even in the locker room, Lidstrom’s teammates rarely, if ever, saw him frustrated, and certainly never angry.
“Maybe I heard him swear two or three times over 20 years,” former Wings center Kris Draper said. “We couldn't believe it. Nothing from banging his stick, getting frustrated or anything like that. It was amazing how composed he was in all situations. That was that calming effect he had on all of us. When things got a little bit out of control you'd look down the bench and see him sitting there and be like, 'All right, it's not that bad.’ ”
The coaching staff never saw that level of disappointment, either.
“I don't know if frustrated was the right word, he never explained his emotion like Steve (Yzerman) would come back to the bench and shatter his stick,” Lewis said. “All the years I coached behind the bench with Nick Lidstrom, I never saw him do that once, so his level of composure was second to none.”
What Lewis did noticed early on was Lidstrom level of commitment to getting better.
“Each year or half-year, you saw growth and improvement,” Lewis said. “That was a big part of his success. He was never satisfied with a certain level. He wanted to push his level to the maximum. It's one thing to get to the Norris Trophy level, it's another to stay there all those years.”
The consistency that which Lidstrom played with night in and night out is something that resonates with everyone whoever played with the man, who will forever be considered the best defenseman of his generation.
“As great as he was talent-wise and determination and skill and everything else, he was never put in a bad position,” said Joey Kocur, who played four seasons with Lidstrom. “Even when he didn't have the puck he controlled where that puck was going; just so much fun to watch him.”
For the Wings’ younger players, these last few seasons spent with, not only a legendary player, but a terrific human-being, has made their development special.
“Whenever we did two-on-one drills and you pass the puck he was swatting it down every time with that stick,” Wings center Darren Helm said. “Forwards bringing it down the wall, trying to chip it in, he'd just bat it out of the air. His hand-eye coordination was amazing.
“Getting a chance to play with him you realize how special he was to this team and the city. Amazing player and amazing person. I'm privileged to have had the chance to play with him.”
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