No. 5 retirement: Lidstrom didn’t know he had it in him
DETROIT — When the Detroit Red Wings informed 19-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom that they planned to pick him in the third round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, he told the team that he was looking forward to being at the draft so he could hear his named called in person.
The Wings then told Lidstrom to remain in Sweden. They didn’t want him anywhere near the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn., which was the site of the 1989 draft.
If Lidstrom had gone to Bloomington, another NHL team might have taken notice and plucked him off the draft board earlier — and one of the greatest defensemen ever could have had his Hall of Fame career someplace else.
Even back in 1989, the Wings saw something in the Swedish teenager that he didn’t see in himself.
"When I first came over, I think I signed a three-year contract and I was just hoping to make the team," Lidstrom said last week. "I didn’t know anything about the team, except for Stevie (Yzerman) being on the team.
"If I didn’t make it, I could always go back and play in Sweden, but I wanted to make a career out of it over here. But I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to do it."
Lidstrom’s confidence received a boost in 1991, when he made Team Sweden’s roster for the Canada Cup. The tournament was played just before he attended his first training camp with the Wings.
"I played against the best Canadians; (Wayne) Gretzky was on the team," Lidstrom said. "I played against the best Americans, the best Russians, so I felt comfortable coming here.
"But I still had that doubt in the back of my mind of ‘What’s this going to be like?’ But I had a good feeling when I was able to play against the best in the world in that Canada Cup tournament."
It might seem weird to many of us today that Lidstrom arrived in North America unsure of himself, because very few players can or will ever match the career of this humble gentleman:
Twenty years a Red Wing … a seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman … a four-time Stanley Cup Champion … and the man who seamlessly replaced Yzerman as Detroit’s captain.
Lidstrom’s accomplishments as a player are vast, and on the eve of his No. 5 being raised to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, there isn’t a hockey fan alive who doesn’t believe it’s a well-deserved honor.
As this historic day neared, Lidstrom admitted that it’s been on his mind.
"I’ve thought a lot more about it as we’re getting closer to it, especially with all the arrangements around the ceremony," Lidstrom said. "It’s been on my mind a lot over the last few weeks.
"I’m very excited about it. I’m looking forward to finally being there and doing it."
Although he’s thrilled that the Wings are retiring his number, he’s mostly looking forward to seeing the former teammates who will be there for him.
"Seeing some of the guys that I haven’t seen in a long time, especially (long pause) Bob Rouse is coming back," Lidstrom said. "I haven’t seen Rouser in a long time. Yves Racine, a guy that I played with my first couple of years — I think Shanny’s (Brendan Shanahan) coming in — you can go down the list.
"I’m just really excited to see them all again and have them be part of that ceremony."
Lidstrom is the epitome of class and coolness. His unflappable demeanor on the ice is legendary. He never let the opposition see him sweat, never showed emotion, and opponents never knew what he was thinking.
Don’t expect that to be the case Thursday night at the Joe.
"If you watched that press conference (announcing his retirement), that was very emotional trying to keep that together," Lidstrom said. "It’ll be the same thing on Thursday night.
"I think it will be very emotional going through everything, especially being on the ice in front of all the fans again, seeing all the former players and the former coaches and the team that’s there now. It will be very emotional."
No doubt, if Lidstrom sheds a tear or two Thursday, he won’t be the only one.
The Red Wings’ top secret of 1989 is out of the bag and beloved now — and his No. 5 will always be hanging around to remind us of his greatness.