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Swedish Devils agree Lidstrom is tops

The news out of Detroit that Nicklas Lidstrom had retired from the NHL Thursday after 20 season had an impact in New Jersey, where the New Jersey Devils’ contingent of Swedish players, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder and goalie Johan Hedberg, all shared fond memories of the wondrous defenseman.

“He’s been an icon in Sweden for so long,” Tallinder said. “I mean, two decades is a long time playing in the best league in the world. The things he has accomplished are remarkable. In my eyes, he’s the best Swedish player we’ve had over here. No offense to (Peter) Forsberg and (Mats) Sundin. Just with four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, that says it all, I think.

“For me growing up, he wasn’t my biggest idol because I was a little bit too young,” Tallinder laughed. “But once he started to make it in this league, I mean, who doesn’t look up to him? He’s an icon. Everybody wants to be like him, play like him. Offensively, defensively, you name it, he does it all.

“First time I played against him? ... I can’t remember that, but we were probably playing Detroit and we were probably—how do you say—getting killed by them. But just watching him play, you would describe it once, it’s like a symphony.”

“You could say it’s a sad day for hockey, but maybe it’s a little bit expected,” Hedberg said. “He’s one of the, if not the best, Swedish player to ever play the game. He’s been a great role model for every Swede growing up, myself included. I had an honor to play with him a few times on the national team.

“He’s a great person, very, very professional,” Hedberg continued. “I think it’s someone that probably doesn’t get the respect that he deserves in Sweden. He’s a low-key guy that gets overshadowed by some more marquee personalities. If there’s anyone that people should want to model themselves after, it would be him.”

For Larsson, not long removed from the junior ranks, all of his memories of Lidstrom are from his time with the Red Wings and in international tournaments like the Olympics.

“I watched him play in the national team and all that,” Larsson said. “He’s huge in Sweden, too. I think all the young players in Sweden look up to him, try to play similar as he do. What he has done so far is unique. Hopefully I can look back after my career and see that I’ve done something good like he has.

Hedberg was asked if Lidstrom ranks as the greatest European player to skate in the NHL.

“Is he the best European player?” Hedberg pondered. “Well, it’s so hard to compare. Look at a guy like, just in recent years, (Jaromir) Jagr’s accomplishments is a guy that should be put up there. Probably plenty other guys names you can name being great. In my mind, how (Lidstrom’s) been consistently great for 20 years, helped the franchise to four Stanley Cups, he never really has been hurt. He’s been a mainstay and the backbone of that team for two decades. That’s very impressive to me.  I think that’s what sets him apart from a lot of other guys.”

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About Iced Coffey

Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.