Attitudes about Nick Lidstrom changed during the wee hours of June 9, 2002, in Raleigh, N.C.
By ART REGNER FS Detroit
They all arrived late to the party.
For years, he had been among the NHL’s best, but recognition was slow in coming.
His teammates marveled at his consistency, and to a man, they believed he was the best player on a team that boasted many great players.
Nicklas Lidstrom never wanted acclaim from anybody. He only sought excellence from himself, and when he couldn’t meet his own standard, he walked away from the game.
It was a simple decision made by a player who made it all look so simple.
Several years ago, I asked Steve Yzerman -- perhaps the biggest Lidstrom fan on the Wings -- what Nick was like off the ice.
Many of us in the media were curious because we found it hard to believe that Lidstrom was so ... normal. There had to be more to him than just being a top-notch hockey player and human being.
Yzerman, with a slight smile, told me that he and Nick were certainly friendly, but they really didn’t hang out. He said that Lidstrom was the type of guy who came to the rink, did his job and went home. The next time you would see him was at the rink.
As much as he would have welcomed a career spent entirely under the radar, Nick’s talent was too considerable to be ignored -- even though hockey’s elite press corps sure did try.
Red Wings began to evolve into the NHL’s premiere franchise, a major reason for their success was the influence of European players. Detroit possessed an international roster, and their game was rooted in skill, speed and inner toughness.
That didn’t play well with hockey beat reporters, dominated by Canadian journalists who believed that protecting their national game was part of their job.
There wasn’t a player who suffered more from this anti-European bias than Lidstrom, who never seemed to be bothered by it.
For too many years, most of the compliments that came his way were always punctuated with, “Well, he’s not a big hitter and he really doesn’t play a physical game.”
If he hailed from the wilds of North America, worked the land during the offseason and was named Jon Smyth, well, let’s just say that his lack of a physical game would have been a non-issue.
That all changed during the wee hours of June 9, 2002, in Raleigh, N.C. The Red Wings had just defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in triple overtime to take a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup finals.
The game started on Saturday night and finished early Sunday morning. ABC televised it nationally, and Al "Do you believe in miracles?" Michaels, handled the play-by-play.
Detroit, after pulling goalie Dominik Hasek, tied the game with less than two minutes to play on a goal by Brett Hull, with Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov drawing the assists.
Overtime was exciting and nerve-racking, with great up-and-down action. Finally, at the 14:47 mark of the third overtime, Igor Larionov scored, sending Lidstrom into stardom.
When the final score sheet was released, Lidstrom’s ice-time totaled 52:03. In a game that lasted for 114:47, Nick had played nearly half of it, which became the story. Lidstrom’s ice-time was all anybody wanted to talk about.
It was an amazing metamorphosis. Suddenly, Nick’s lack of hitting and physical play were cast aside and replaced with flawless play and incredible stamina.
Even though he had won the Norris Trophy the year before, the endurance he showed with the Cup on the line finally earned him credibility with a large segment of the hockey press.
Neither team skated the next day, but they had media obligations to fulfill. The Wings met the media in a hotel banquet room that was overflowing with food and drink.
Needless to say, the media was in a great mood, with many of them saying that if Detroit won the Cup, Lidstrom was the clear-cut choice to win the Conn Smythe as playoffs MVP.
It was so strange to see so many media members change their tune based on 52:03 of ice-time.
When the Wings arrived, I immediately went up to Nick and said, “You really did it this time. The entire Canadian press has punched their ticket on the Nick party train and plan on staying for the full ride.”
“Why? What did I do?” Lidstrom responded.
“Your ice-time; you played over 50 minutes," I told him. "Be careful, there’s such a Nick lovefest going on in there, they may want a lock of your hair."
“Maybe I should have worn a hat,” Lidstrom said laughing.
After that, Lidstrom won two more Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe Trophy and six more Norris Trophies.
Now it’s all over. He’ll never log another minute of ice-time again.
As Lidstrom addressed the overflowing crowd at his retirement announcement Thursday, I could have kicked myself for forgetting my hair-cutting shears.