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DETROIT — Ken Holland praised Nicklas Lidstrom’s versatility and his fierceness as a competitor.
Mike Babcock lauded the former defenseman’s ability to lead by example, as well as his low-maintenance personality.
Both the general manager and the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings recounted Lidstrom’s remarkable 20-year NHL career that included four Stanley Cups, 1,325 points, and seven Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman.
Then Chris Ilitch summed up Lidstrom’s remarkable career in one designation. “A perfect Red Wing,” said Ilitch, the president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., which owns the Red Wings. “Nick Lidstrom has everything you could want in a Red Wing.”
A standard for one of hockey’s most storied franchises finally became immortalized. Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings rose Lidstrom’s name and uniform number to the rafters, where it will be next to team and NHL legends such as Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, and Ted Lindsay.
Prior to a 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Red Wings honored Lidstrom, nearly two years after he announced his retirement in May of 2012.
Sixteen former teammates and six former coaches and team executives who worked with Lidstrom sat at center ice with Lidstrom, his wife, and children. More than 20 family members of Lidstrom’s were also in attendance.
“I’m very thankful my family is here tonight,” Lidstrom said. “It’s not just my name. It’s our name on the back of the sweater.”
Lidstrom’s number was everywhere. Workers wore red No. 5 lapel pins. Painted behind each goal was the No. 5. Teammates wore commemorative Lidstrom jerseys as he and his family walked the red carpet.
Detroit’s captains presented Lidstrom, 43, with a safari trip to Africa, a gift from his teammates. The Red Wings brought a Dodge Ram pickup truck out on the ice for him to take home.
“It’ll be a challenge to keep the keys from my kids,” Lidstrom quipped.
It was no coincidence that the Red Wings hosted the Avalanche, a matchup that was one of the NHL’s most intense rivalries during the late 1990s.
“As much as we didn’t like him when we were playing against each other, I had tons of respect for him,” said Patrick Roy, the Avalanche’s coach and former goalie.
In his pregame speech, Lidstrom recalled his first foray into Joe Louis Arena in 1991. Greeted by a team trainer, he was asked which number he would like.
Lidstrom naively asked for No. 9, the number he wore in his native Sweden — and Howe’s uniform number.
“He just said, ‘Kid, that’s just not going to happen,’ ” Lidstrom said. “So I came back in the fall, just kept my mouth shut, and the No. 5 was handed to me.”