Thursday, March 6, 7:10am
My alarm goes off for the day, tuned to 104.3 WOMC (or maybe 105.1; they blend together on my radio). And it’s Nicklas Lidstrom talking to the host. Pre-recorded or live, it did not matter. Waking up to Lidstrom is the perfect way to start the day of his number retirement. Unfortunately, there’s still a nine-hour work day ahead of me to get to his ceremony.
Lunch. Halfway through the work day, and I’m still constantly looking at the clock, waiting for 5pm. Waiting for whatever epicness the evening will hold.
My brother picks me up at work, our Nicklas Lidstrom jerseys ready to go in the backseat of his car. A quick run through the Taco Bell drive-thru, and we’re headed to the Joe. “You know,” he says as we sit in a traffic jam on I-375, “if we were smart about this, we would have left work at four, come down here, and eaten at Lafayette Coney Island.”
“Well, that doesn’t help us now,” I replied with a chuckle.
We park by Cobo and make the quick six-minute walk to Joe Louis Arena, where doors have been open for twenty minutes. The huge drove of fans has subsided and entering is manageable. We wander through the concourse for a bit, only to backtrack to a stand selling the 5 books–all about Lidstrom’s career.
Our seats are much better than I anticipated. Jokingly, I told everyone, “They’re in the far corner on the opposite side of the banners, and I’m pretty sure the jumbotron will be in the way.” But section 204A was closer to the side of the ice than I realized, and the banners were a little off to the left of the jumbotron.
With over twenty minutes to waste, my brother and I sit in our seats and take pictures of everything. Three podiums on the ice–one with the Conn Smythe, one with the Norris Trophy, one empty. “Stanley Cup?” we question out loud. Sure enough, with ten minutes left, fans go crazy and the Stanley Cup is on the ice.
Then the alumni players begin to show up. Most are easy to distinguish because they wear their jerseys. Chris Chelios. Chris Osgood. Kris Draper. Kirk Maltby. The chairs fill up and once more, the crowd bursts into applause. Here comes Vladimir Konstantinov.
The lights dim. The ceremony begins. There’s an awed hush undercutting the buzzing electricity in the air. Camera flashes everywhere as you scan the sea of seats. Ken Daniels begins his diatribe as the MC of the evening.
He starts to tell the overarching backstories of all the retired numbers, in order of their retire dates. Each of them, if not there personally, are represented on the ice by a family member. Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, Sid Abel, and then to the man everyone wants to see…
I laugh at the sad groan from fans. It’s a sign of ongoing respect and love that no one starts booing at Yzerman’s absence. A video from him plays during the first commercial break in the first period and everyone applauds and screams. “I can’t hear what he’s saying!” I jokingly say to my brother. Because it doesn’t matter what he says–we already know.
Before Lidstrom appears on the ice (though not dressed and ready to play the second half of the season), Ken Daniels begins to introduce all of the old teammates that have arrived for this special occasion. I am not one to get teared up at hockey ceremonies, but the love and affection this crowd pours out… “On the ice, your opponents feared him. Off the ice, you can’t help but love him,” Ken Daniels says. “Vladimir Konstantinov.”
I hope it was loud on the televised version. Because it was deafening in the Joe. And as soon as it begins to die down is when he stands up and we go crazy all over again.
The current Red Wings roster comes onto the ice, all dressed in Lidstrom jerseys, and they line the red carpet that leads from the zamboni entrance to the podium. Then, the man of the hour arrives, family in tow.
The speeches begin. Mike Babcock. Ken Holland. Christopher Ilitch on behalf of Mike and Marian. And then, Nicklas Lidstrom.
Who knew the Perfect Human is so darn funny? I cannot remember anything he said, I just remember cracking up on many different occasions. Class and dignity the whole way, from start to finish. Any time he has a pause in his speech, the crowd erupts.
And you see the look on Lidstrom’s face each time it happens. Happiness mingled with a bit of discomfort at being in the limelight so very directly and for such an extended amount of time. He’s not comfortable with all of the attention put on him, and he never really was.
He receives a Ram truck from the Ilitch family to take back to Sweden. “Well, you’ll know that if you’re in Sweden and you see that truck on the road, it’s probably Lidstrom,” I tell my brother, and we both laugh.
He receives a vacation for an African Safari from the current Red Wings roster and his old teammates. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg make an appearance to present him with it alongside Niklas Kronwall. “Oh man, Zetterberg does not look good,” my brother says as Hank walks out from the locker room. I flinch at the obvious limp the current captain has. When the gift is presented, Datsyuk stays on the ice with his teammates while Zetterberg heads back down the hallway.
And then it happens: the banner is revealed. We all knew what it would look like, but it’s the majesty with which it’s presented to us. It hovers in midair, slowly rising to join its brethren in the rafters, forever immortalizing the man we all knew as The Perfect Human.
When the ceremony ends, it is almost a disappointing feeling. We don’t want it to end. We want to keep Lidstrom on the ice for as long as we can. We still foolishly hope (though it fades with every passing day) that he’ll come back to “save” this team, but we know it’s a foolish thought.
The demolition crew appears and within ten minutes, the ice looks normal again, and the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche take it for warmups.
The game itself is smattered with videos from current NHL players wishing Nicklas Lidstrom all the best. Yzerman’s appears first. Multiple Staals show up. Teemu Selanne. Valtteri Filppula. It is a nice touch to a wonderful ceremony.
“Man, I was almost undefeated at retirement ceremony games!” my brother says as we leave the Joe just after 11pm; he attended the Yzerman number retirement in 2007.
“Well…you’re still undefeated in regulation!” I offer as a condolence. He just laughs.