NEWARK, N.J. As a kid growing up in Michigan, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene didnt have to look far for his hockey role model: Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Even if emulating him was a tough, if not impossible, task.
I realized early on I cant play anything like him, the Grand Ledge, Mich., native said. But as a young kid, thats who you wanted to model your game after. You talk about pure class. Hes definitely a role model in how the game should be played and respected.
When the four-time Stanley Cup and seven-time Norris Trophy winner announced his retirement on Thursday, the Detroit Red Wings lost a tremendous player. And the NHL lost a tremendous ambassador and gentleman of the game. Lidstrom epitomized class and talent throughout his 20-year career. And everyone from Central Division opponents to the defensemen who wanted to grow up and play just like him, chimed in on his legacy.
Hes probably one of the greatest defensemen to play the game, if not the greatest. That alone says something, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. Hes a special player. I think the game of hockey is lucky to have had him as many years as it has. Hes ending the greatest career of a defenseman Ive ever seen live.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp joked, hopefully the Wings leave that spot open and they get a little worse. Hes arguably the best defenseman who ever played the game. I have good memories playing against him. I talked to him personally a few times; hes a nice person and well respected. I dont think youll see anyone say a bad thing about him.
Indeed, youd be hard pressed to find that. Coaches included, too.
It didnt matter how you forechecked or how you set up. Hes one of the few guys who could control a game from the defensive standpoint, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. You think about how many guys there are in recent history are who are like that. Not many. We were kids, thought Bobby Orr could do that. Pretty awesome player.
Drew Doughty echoed that sentiment.
Im having to take hard strides. If you watch him, I dont think he ever took a hard stride. It always looked like he was gliding, the Kings defenseman said. Yet at the same time he was always in the exact position he needed to be. To this day I dont know how he did it. I want to try to model myself after him one day.
The 42-year-old Swede had a career some could only dream off, one filled with tremendous stats and impressive hardware. He also had an enviable curtain call: he went out on his terms, still a strong talent.
Its not that the tank is completely empty. I just dont have enough to carry me through every day at a high level that I want to play at, Lidstrom told reporters at his emotionally charged press conference. My family and I are completely comfortable with this decision. Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride, rather than having the game walk away from me.
Lidstrom played the game they way it was supposed to be played, going through all the changes to it. Off the ice he carried himself the way a professional should: no histrionics, no hijinks, no headaches.
The Red Wings bid goodbye to a tremendous defenseman. The league bid goodbye to a class act.
Its sad to see him retire but its amazing to look back and see his stats, Greene said. You cant fault him for (choosing retirement). Playing as long as he has, everything hes accomplished, its unbelievable.