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Red Wings teammates sad but not surprised about Kronwall's retirement

Defenseman took other players under his wing throughout his stellar career

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Niklas Kronwall was known for his ferocious hits on the ice but off the ice, there was no one more admired and respected, especially by his teammates.

Kronwall announced his retirement after 15 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday on a video posted on DetroitRedWings.com.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: As one chapter ends, another begins. Thank you, Nik. pic.twitter.com/G2vNzBMDAx

"I was a 22-year-old kid when I came over from Sweden," Kronwall said in the video. "Now, at 38, I have my own family here. Detroit has become home for us. This franchise, this city and the people of Michigan have shaped me into who I am today. I'll never forget the feeling of walking into the Joe on game days, the fans, the ushers and the people around us created an amazing atmosphere. I will forever cherish those moments. And now, the LCA, when my sons come down to watch warmups before games or other times, I will never forget."

Kronwall's contract expired at the end of last season but both former general manager Ken Holland and current executive vice president and general manager (and former teammate of Kronwall) Steve Yzerman left the door open for him to return for the 2019-20 season.

"I think he was all set to have last season as his last season but the way he felt and played and everything, I think that made him really have to think about it because I don't think he expected to feel as good as he did and play as good as he did because he was feeling so good," longtime teammate Jonathan Ericsson said. "I think that was probably the hardest decision for him because (he thought), 'I can do this for another year.' Obviously it's sad but I kind of had the feeling that I knew where it was going."

Justin Abdelkader, another alternate captain and another longtime teammate, said he heard the news directly from Kronwall.

"Kronner had called me a little bit ago and mentioned to me that he was going to retire," Abdelkader said. "He just had a bunch of the guys over at his house to kind of tell everyone. I think a lot of guys had known but just kind of to get guys together and formally tell everyone.

"It's obviously been a pleasure to play with him. He's been such a great role model for me from day one. Always such a positive guy to talk to, someone that I looked up to for how he carried himself on the ice but especially off the ice and the person he was in the room. Just learned a lot from him and just such a pleasure to have the opportunity to play with him."

Tweet from @justinabss: Kronner, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor to play alongside you and go to battle together each night. You exemplify what it means to be a Detroit Red Wing and wore the jersey with pride each time you put it on. pic.twitter.com/fPrG21pTtO

Kronwall will remain in Detroit and joins the front office as an advisor to the general manager.

"I had the pleasure of playing with Niklas early in his career, and it was evident from his first season what a special player and person he would become," Yzerman said in a statement. "He was among the NHL's best two-way defensemen of his era and will go down as one of the greatest at his position in Red Wings history. Niklas has a sharp hockey mind and is highly respected in the hockey world. He has the makeup and work ethic of someone who will have a very successful career in management, and I am thrilled that he will remain with the franchise on the hockey operations staff."

At 35, Ericsson is just three years Kronwall's junior but he said his fellow Swede was a true mentor to him.

"I remember the first time I was at training camp and he came up and introduced himself and basically took me under his wing," Ericsson said. "After camp in Traverse City, he asked me if I wanted to stay at his house. I did. Always treated me so well. We became really good friends over the years. He's just a person everyone loves. He's such a genuine and very socially skilled person, very likable to everyone. I know on the ice he's not as likable for the other players but as a teammate, you can't ask for a better guy."

Tweet from @JacobdelaRose: One of the best if not the best teammate I���ve had, thanks for taking care of me when I first got to detroit and I���ll always appreciate I got a chance to play with this legend ������ #55 https://t.co/Km4JBcWazG

On the ice, opponents knew they had better keep their heads up or they could end up as one of Kronwall's highlights.

"I think guys always remember his Kronwalls, his big hits, momentum-changing hits in games," Abdelkader said. "You never knew when they were going to happen but he always timed them perfectly. He was a force on the back end. Gosh, those always swung the momentum on our side and fans always loved it. It was really an art and a skill that he could time those so well and make those big, game-changing hits."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: #KRONWALLED pic.twitter.com/xKd09gar04

Those hits belied the fact that Kronwall was just 6-foot, 194 pounds, and meant that Abdelkader and Ericsson had to be on the lookout for players looking for paybacks.

"At the time he Kronwalls people, especially if I'm on the ice, who am I going to grab? Who's going to go after him the hardest," Ericsson said. "I always said, from the first season we played together, you're probably not going to be able to play your whole career without having a fight.

"But he did."

Kronwall did more than just hit, of course, and he finishes third in franchise history in games played by a defenseman with 953 games, which is ninth overall, and fourth in points with 432 points.

Only Nicklas Lidstrom with 1,142, Reed Larson with 570 and Red Kelly with 472 had more points.

Kronwall ranks high among Detroit defensemen in many categories -- fourth in goals with 83, third in assists with 349, fourth in power-play goals with 34, third in power-play points with 109, tied for third in game-winning goals with 14 and tied for first in overtime goals with four.

Just last season, Kronwall led the entire team in games played with 79 and led the team's defensemen in points with 27.

"No one expected that," Ericsson said. "I think going into that season, I think he was thinking if I can play half the season as kind of his goal or something, I'm not going to say that it was his goal, but I know he didn't expect to play (almost) all the games. He played the most of anyone and he was probably the most consistent D-man we had."

Kronwall also had incredible success on the international stage. He won an Olympic gold medal and IIHF World Championship gold medal in 2006 while playing for Team Sweden.

Tweet from @Glindstroom: 👑. https://t.co/f0XwjZduFp

That along with his Stanley Cup championship in 2008 made him a member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club.

"I'd like to congratulate Niklas on a wonderful career and thank him for exemplifying what it means to be a Red Wing for the past 15 years," Red Wings Governor, President and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. "His impact on our organization has been immeasurable, from his stellar on-ice play which helped us win a Stanley Cup, to the legacy he built off the ice as someone who was always proud to give back to the Detroit community. It gives me great confidence in the future of the team knowing our young players have been able to learn from him, and I know that Niklas will find success in the next chapter of his career in our front office."

In the last two seasons, the Wings have lost captain Henrik Zetterberg to a back injury and now Kronwall to retirement.

Only Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula, who signed as a free agent July 1, remain from that 2008 championship team.

"I've obviously been with those guys for many years. I've learned a ton from them," Abdelkader said. "Just really enjoyed playing with them, getting to know them, becoming really good friends with them. Obviously it's always sad when you see them retire and move on because you're just so used to having them around and enjoy having them around. We'll miss him, obviously."

Although he suspected this was coming, Ericsson knows that things are going to be very different this season without Kronwall.

"From the first day of training camp, we've basically been together the whole time," Ericsson said. "I don't think we've missed a lot of dinners on the road together unless we had someone else in town. We were always riding to the games together, riding to the airplane, going home from games, going home from road games. Those talks that we had about the games or everything that we've been doing, it's going to be a big change. He obviously leaves a big gap.

"I told him yesterday when I met him, 'I don't know what I'm going to do without you.' Like I said, we've been doing so much together. Not just the two of us but as a group and he's always been a part of that group. It's going to be different. Somehow we're going to be able to get him in there some way, have him on FaceTime while we're eating or something."

Kronwall said he will definitely miss that camaraderie of being with his teammates at home and on the road but that is not all he will miss about playing.

"Last but absolutely not the least, you great Red Wings fans out there," Kronwall said. "Thank you for always standing behind the team. There have been some ups and some downs during my time here. What hasn't changed is your support. Detroit Red Wings are a family. We are all together, we're all working towards one goal. Wearing the winged wheel on my chest was and always will be a huge honor. When one chapter ends, another one starts. I'm very excited for my new role within the Detroit Red Wings organization."

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