DETROIT - For 20 years, every time Nicklas Lidstrom stepped onto the ice at The Joe, he looked at the banners that hung high in the arena’s rafters.
“We always started practice whether you’re stretching on the ice, you looked at the Stanley Cup banners and you looked at the numbers that were retired,” Lidstrom said.
On Thursday, March 6, the defenseman will watch his own number ascend to hang alongside those that he looked up to for years, cementing his place among Detroit’s all-time greats. It’s a feat that Lidstrom never thought would be possible when he first arrived in Hockeytown 23 years ago.
“It just seems so much bigger than I imagined,” Lidstrom said. “I’ve been looking up at the rafters for a long time and seeing those name and it’s a little surreal that my name is going to be going up there too and it’s a tremendous honor to have my name up there as well.”
Although Lidstrom wasn’t certain if the retirement of No. 5 was an honor that would ever come his way, defenseman Niklas Kronwall would beg to differ.
“Well I think that was a given even before I came here,” Kronwall said. “I hope that he gets to just to enjoy it, sit back and kind of relax and enjoy the whole thing. Nick is just one of those guys that whatever you throw at him he just finds himself in a real comfortable position. I think he’s going to enjoy it and have a good time with it.”
It’s a night that Lidstrom is certainly looking forward to. And with the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan and Vladimir Konstantinov in attendance, the defenseman expects the entire night to be emotional.
“I think just a lot of memories coming back, I’m sure they’ll have a video or two up there and seeing some of my former teammates, just everything surrounding the ceremony and everything,” Lidstrom said. “I think that’s why it will be emotional.”
Reflecting back on his historic 20-year career in which he earned four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy, Lidstrom may not regret retiring in 2012, but there isn’t an aspect of the game he doesn’t miss.
“I still miss coming in here and getting ready for a game or walking out onto the ice in front of 20,000 people,” Lidstrom said. “I miss the times that you guys don’t see every day that you’re in here with the guys, you’re traveling with the guys, you’re out there for practices and there’s no one really in the building so I miss those times as well as the game situations whether you’re up a goal or you’re down a goal, you’re battling and you’re really fighting to win a game. I miss those moments as well.”
The feeling is mutual among the players in Detroit’s dressing room.
“I mean how can you not miss a guy like that?” Kronwall asked. “Of course you’re going to miss the best defenseman maybe to even play the game. It’s still a big hole after him but we’re trying to do as good job as possible and doing it together.”
But for Lidstrom, there are many perks to retirement as well.
“I think what’s been so relaxing about it is that I get weekends off,” Lidstrom said. “I never had any weekends off that I can remember since I was a teenager. It’s been nice with the weekends to watch the kids play hockey and even going on trips in October, November, taking the family for a week-long trip when the kids get a break from school.”
Lidstrom’s family will also be at The Joe for his jersey retirement, making the evening even more special since the defenseman can share his accomplishments with those who stood by him throughout his entire career.
“They’ve been through the journey as well,” Lidstrom said. “They’ve been here from my first season to my last season, watched me play for all these years and they get a chance to be here for all these ceremonies as well which means a lot to me that they can be here and watch it.”
It’s a ceremony that everyone is looking forward to, and if it’s anything like Steve Yzerman’s jersey retirement, coach Mike Babcock knows it will be an extremely special evening.
“What we did for Yzerman a few years back I thought was a fantastic ceremony for our fans, but for our players as well,” Babcock said. “You don’t get two tough generational type players throughout your career. When you fortunate to be around one as great a person and athlete as Nick is it’s pretty special. It’s great to join him and his family in the celebration of that.”
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