Lidstrom’s No. 5 raised to Joe Louis Arena rafters
DETROIT — On a night when the Detroit Red Wings honored former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, his No. 5 could be spotted everywhere at Joe Louis Arena.
If he had gotten his way, though, he would have donned a different number during a career that spanned two decades in Detroit.
During Thursday night’s ceremony to retire Lidstrom’s No. 5, he told the real story behind it.
"The first time I walked into Joe Louis Arena, I was here to sign my first contract," Lidstrom said. "I didn’t know much about the history of the team. I knew that Steve Yzerman was the captain and had played here a long time, but besides that, I didn’t know a whole lot about the team.
"So when the trainer at the time asked me what number I would I like if I made the team, I told him I wore No. 9 in Sweden and it would be great if I could get No. 9 again.
"He just said, ‘Kid, that just ain’t gonna happen.’ So I just kept my mouth shut and No. 5 was handed to me."
All Lidstrom did wearing No. 5 was win four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and make the playoffs in each of his 20 NHL seasons.
Lidstrom was the first European-born player to win the Conn Smythe, in 2002, and in 2008 became the first European-born captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup championship.
Lidstrom wore No. 5 in 1,564 regular-season games, second only to the original No. 9, Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey.
Lidstrom’s No. 5 joined Howe’s No. 9, Yzerman’s No. 19, Terry Sawchuk’s No. 1, Alex Delvecchio’s No. 10, Ted Lindsay’s No. 7 and Sid Abel’s No. 12 in the Joe Louis Arena rafters before the game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Lidstrom is the first Red Wings defenseman to have his number retired.
"When I heard Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch wanted to retire my jersey, I tried to put it in context," Lidstrom said. "It’s not like winning a trophy for a successful season or playoff run. It’s not like winning individual trophies. This is something different. This is all about being a Detroit Red Wing."
Lidstrom had more than 30 members of his family in attendance for the event, including his wife, Annika; his four sons, Kevin, Adam, Samuel and Lukas. His parents and sisters and their families were also there.
The family of Lidstrom’s first defensive partner, Brad McCrimmon, also attended the ceremony. McCrimmon, while coach of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, died in a plane crash in 2011 that killed the entire team.
Among the other dignitaries present Thursday were former Red Wings coaches Scotty Bowman and Dave Lewis; assistant coach Barry Smith; former Red Wings assistant GM and current Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill; Lindsay, Delvecchio, and members of the families of Sawchuk and Abel; plus former teammates Vladimir Konstantinov, Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios, Igor Larionov, Brendan Shanahan, Bob Rouse, Mathieu Schneider, Robert Lang, Yves Racine, Manny Legace, Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Anders Eriksson and Lidstrom’s best friend, Tomas Holmstrom.
"Now, Homer, I’m not sure how many shots you blocked or how many goals that I scored that were disallowed because you were standing in the crease," Lidstrom said. "But I do know one thing: If Homer wasn’t standing there, I wouldn’t have scored as many goals."
Current Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall presented Lidstrom with a gift from the players, a trip to see the Big 5 — lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros — on an African safari.
Christopher Ilitch represented his parents, Red Wings owners Mike and Marian, who were unable to attend the ceremony because Mike Ilitch continues to recover from a medical procedure.
On behalf of the Ilitch family, Christopher Ilitch gave Lidstrom a Dodge RAM truck, which Lidstrom said his four boys were going to fight over.
"Over the years, Nick’s teammates gave him the nickname ‘The Perfect Human’ because he always did everything right, but my parents and our hockey club, we had a special name for Nick, too — the perfect Red Wing," Ilitch said. "Nick Lidstrom is not just the best defenseman of his era, he’s the best by a long shot."
Current Red Wings coach Mike Babcock spoke about coaching Lidstrom for the last seven years of Lidstrom’s career.
"Many people think he coached me," Babcock said. "As good a player as he was, he was a better man and a better teammate. No maintenance, led by example.
"Thanks, Nick. It’s been a real privilege for all of us."
Yzerman, currently the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was unable to attend but recorded a video message that the Wings played during the first period.
"You always were the ultimate player, the ultimate professional, a player we could always count on," Yzerman said. "Truly an honor to play with one of the greatest players."
When Yzerman was still playing, he often said Lidstrom was the team’s best player.
Wings general manager Ken Holland often joked that when Lidstrom retired, he was going to follow him out the door.
That didn’t happen, but Holland made it clear how he felt about Lidstrom.
"I’ve had the pleasure of a front-row seat since 1997 to watch one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game," Holland said. "Boy, do I miss watching No. 5 out there.
"Simply the best."