Former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom engaged in a lengthy interview with Expressen’s Johanna Dalen this morning, and Dahlen paints a picture of Lidstrom’s “new life in Sweden–with four hockey-playing sons.” There’s also an accompanying three-minute video interview with Lidstrom, but you may not get much out of it as it’s in Swedish.
Here’s a rough translation of the interview:
“Lidas'” New Hockey Life in Sweden–with four hockey-playing sons
He is up to date with his summer talk that came out a few weeks ago.
SportExpressen has met with Nicklas Lidstrom in Vasteras for a long interview on, among other things, his career, his family life and the car accident that unified the Detroit Red Wings.
“Somehow I think that it broke some barriers, that you dared to show your emotions in another way,” Lidstrom says.
If you are sitting outside the ice rink ABB Nord in Vasteras, you will see the bandy facility on the right, where VSK plays in the Eliteserien, and the soccer stadium on the left, where VSK plays their home games in the superette league.
Elite sports are present everywhere.
And in ABB Nord’s ice hockey arena, there is VIK–which aims to join the SHL.
It was here that Nicklas Lidstrom’s journey started.
At age 16 he moved to Vasteras from Avesta to attend the hockey school. 33 years later, it’s the place that the family has chosen as its home.
“Vasteras is a sports city, and I think it’s important for the city,” says Lidstrom when he shows us around and continues:
“We are sitting in an arena now where hockey is the one that draws the most people to the games. Hockey means a lot to Vasteras. It’s clearly the ambition of Vasteras IK to be able to take the next step and join the SHL.”
It’s still mostly hockey for the Lidstrom family. All four of their sons play ice hockey, and at home in the TV room, there are often games that are on.
“I think that my wife thinks it might be a little boring, but sometimes the TV is on and it’s a hockey game, but it’s easy when the boys come home. There will be a game coming on or highlights from the NHL.
When do you come home?
It’s everyday life in the NHL to travel a lot and sometimes you are gone for several weeks.
“As an NHL player you don’t feel any difference on a Wednesday or a Saturday because you play games all the time. The weeks roll on. If you have a regular job you usually look forward to the weekend when you get to be free.”
He continues: “You feel it now that you’ve moved home that you can look forward to the weekend when the children are free from school and you can find things to do together in a different way than you could before.”
In what way was that tough?
“We have four sons…To leave a wife with four children, though we had child care, it was a little sad sometimes. If you know that there is something special in school that they’re doing, or if it’s a hockey game after school. Sometimes it felt difficult to leave them, especially if I knew I was going to be away for a while. They understood, because they grew up with it…But still the question came, ‘When will you come home?’ Then it was hard to leave home.”
Did you overcompensate and become too involved in your career?
“No, I don’t think that I was too involved. I think they thought it was a little more fun when Dad was home all the time instead of being out and about, instead of when I was away pretty much all the time. It’s become a different everyday life.”
“All of a sudden, hockey players cried”
It has been seven years since Lidstrom chose to put his skates on the shelf after 20 years in the NHL. In his summer talk on the Swedish radio station P1, he highlights the peaks of his career, and also the rough parts.
June 16, 1998. The Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year, after defeating Washington in four straight games.
In the middle of the celebration was Vladimir Konstantinov, who had to retire the season before.
“He had to get down to the ice with his wheelchair, and he got to go around with the Stanley Cup on his lap. It’s a memory for life that I’ll always remember.”
We have to rewind time a year, to celebrating the Stanley Cup win the year before.
Red Wings defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov, as well as masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov had been out playing golf and were going out on the town.
The two defensemen went in a limousine with a driver. But then the unthinkable happened.
The driver fell asleep at the wheel and the limousine crashed straight into a tree. Fetisov got away with minor injuries, but both Mnatsakanov and Konstantinov suffered serious head injuries and spent several weeks in comas.
When Konstantinov woke up, the three-time World Championship winner needed a wheelchair to be able to get around, at the age of 30.
“Somehow we got closer to each other, and maybe the macho barrier was broken in hockey. Suddenly, hockey players could cry if they saw a teammate lying in a coma without knowing if he would survive. Then a certain barrier disappeared, perhaps a macho barrier, or at least one began to show his emotions in a different way.”
How did it unite you?
“It happened that summer. When we came back, you looked at each other in a different way because you’d gone through it. Konstantinov’s spot in the locker room was next to me, so his stuff remained there all season. Everyone on the team saw that his stuff was still there, and someone even put a stone there that said, “Believe.”
Lidstrom continues: “Somehow I think it broke barriers, that you dared to show your emotions a different way. I think that it made the team come together in some ways.”
“United team goes all the way”
On one side of Lidstrom in the locker room was Konstantinov’s place. On the other was Fetisov’s place.
“He was going to retire but he decided that he wanted to play another year because of what happened. It was a little bit for Konstantinov’s sake that he wanted to play for another year, and it also meant that when he played, because he was in the car in the accident, that they wanted to win together again. You always want to win but in some ways I think this joined us one more step, and it became very emotional all season. We had won but it was something that wasn’t as it should be. And that was because of the accident. It bonded the team and made sure that we could go all the way again.”
What did it mean to win again?
“It meant a lot. Konstantinov began to come back a little in the locker room. At the beginning he sat in a wheelchair, and then he could go with a walker. He came into the locker room, especially in the second half of the season, and he sat in his spot. It lifted the team in a big way because he wanted to be there. He couldn’t go on the ice but he wanted to get the feeling of sitting in the locker room again. Such small things become very big. It meant a lot to be able to go all the way again. We won for him, for his sake.”
The Hockey Culture Has Changed
Mental illness has become an increasingly actualized and talked-about topic, and that’s spread into ice hockey.
When Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner told about his alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts in The Athletic before this season, and there was an enormous response from the hockey world.
“I couldn’t handle all the emotions. I wanted to kill myself–it was extremely close several times,” he wrote.
Last winter, Patrik Berglund ended his contract with the Buffalo Sabres in the middle of the season, giving up over 100 million Swedish Kronor, and he chose to move home to Sweden after he didn’t enjoy being with his team.
“I needed to come home, get away from hockey and get help,” says Berglund in an interview with Hockey Puls.
The climate has changed and more players dare to tell us about the background of dealing with a demanding elite sport today, and, in particular, sometimes the tough hockey culture.
“Sure, it’s a small culture…That it should be a certain way. It should be tough. But thanks to the fact that several have stepped forward and talked about these topics, I think it has become a little better. Both in society and above all in hockey. It’s still a tough sport, there’s a lot going on, but we’ve taken big steps going back from the last 20-30 years,” says Lidstrom.
“But sometimes, it’s still a bit tough. There are a lot of hits, and it’s a tough game that hurts to play. Then of course it helps when people talk about their problems or that it comes up to the surface. I think that it helps hockey.”
Keeping speech in front of the present
“Nicklas Lidstrom is undoubtedly one of the best defenders ever in hockey,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s well-known hockey journalist Michael Farber about “Lidas.”
He’s not alone in thinking it.
He won, among other NHL awards, four Stanley Cup titles, one Olympic gold, one World Championship gold, seven Norris Trophies (as the NHL’s best defenseman) and he played in 1,564 NHL games.
After his career was over and they moved home, Nicklas Lidstrom chose to become a youth coach with VIK Hockey, which he has done for the past six years.
“It was a little difficult at first, because you have to start over, and understand that the young people who are 9-10 years old are only in the beginning. It took a little while to get into the ‘frame of mind.’ But once I did, I thought it was great fun trying to understand how they feel.
With four sons playing hockey, how much time do you put in?
“I’m very calm in the stands. I sit quietly mostly and just think that it’s fun that my children have chosen the same sport that I love. I think I learned, when my children were younger, to be there and support them instead of trying to poke at them and give too much advice. You notice that you are still just a parent. Even if you played in the NHL, you’re still a father first and foremost.”
“Now it’s the opposite…They can come to me and ask questions about different things. That’s probably the level that we are at today.”
“It was uncomfortable–then it was hard”
When you talk to Nicklas Lidstrom today, you notice that he’s spent 30 years in the spotlight, and is used to answering questions. Everything comes easy, he takes his time and gives thoughtful answers to everything.
But it has not always been the case.
“I don’t have a problem with it now, but once it was hard. I can certainly look back at interviews that I did when I was young, and think that it looks great, and that I said funny things. When I was young I was uncomfortable and thought itw as hard to get up and talk to the team for example. But it’s experience there, too, you learn how it feels in your body, you know how to react and so you grow. Then you end up in larger and larger contexts until you’re able to keep your speech before the American president. The feelings are still there, that you’re not really comfortable with the situation, but you can handle it.”
What was the media attention like in the U.S.?
“In the NHL they open the doors to the press as soon as you get in, they want transparency. You learn very quickly to be able to handle such situations. It could be five minutes after a game and when it went badly, you were frustrated, and cursed, so you should try to say the right things. You grow, and become better at it and learn how to handle such situations.”