Honors for Lidstrom, Fedorov rekindle Wings glory days
Detroit — Nicklas Lidstrom’s instinctual perception of hockey allowed him to play with such effortless simplicity, his greatness often was discounted.
Eventually, Lidstrom’s performance was acknowledged as approaching perfection.
Sergei Fedorov played one of the most complete games of any forward in NHL history. He did it at such a high level for the Red Wings, he could bend the sport to his will.
The induction of Lidstrom and Fedorov in the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, with events beginning in Toronto on Friday, is spurring a walk down memory lane, including for Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, two former teammates already enshrined, along with their great coach, Scotty Bowman.
“It’s a great reminder of all the success we had together, and all the fun we had playing together,” Lidstrom said from Sweden before he left for Ontario.
“It makes it even more special when you’re going in with a former teammate that you played with for over 10 years. So, it will be very special.”
Peter Karmanos, whose development of Compuware youth hockey eventually placed more than two dozen players from Michigan in the NHL at a time when the participation of players born in the United States grew from seven percent to 24 percent, also will be inducted.
Joining them is Angela Ruggiero, the Olympian who was born in California and learned the game growing up in Harper Woods.
But the great Red Wings teams of the 1990s and 2000s will take center stage.
Beginning in 1997, after 42 years without a Stanley Cup, the Wings won back-to-back titles and four in 11 years while developing their brand of hockey.
Other franchises try to replicate it still.
Succeeding Red Wings teams will be held to the standard for a generation, or until the memories fade.
For those who participated, the memories are rushing back.
Yzerman started playing for the franchise at the end of a decades-long decline, seven years before Fedorov and eight before Lidstrom.
“It was great, yeah!” Yzerman said, smiling at the recollection.
“At the time, we had just missed the playoffs and they came in. They really accelerated the process, got us to be a winning team much quicker.
“There was no adjustment period,” the Lightning general manager said. “They were NHL players from the first game.”
Lidstrom said his ability to anticipate action on the ice began in childhood.
“You know, I think it’s something I had as a kid and I developed even more with good coaches and with experience,” he said.
“Gaining experience first in international hockey and then playing in the NHL, you get familiar with the players. And then being able to adjust from the bigger rinks in international hockey to the smaller rinks in the NHL helped, too.”
Bowman recalls Lidstrom playing tough shifts against tough opponents, and rarely missing a game.
“It’s hard to believe how many games he was able to play at a high level,” said Bowman, senior adviser for hockey operations for the Blackhawks. “He always played with the elite best players on the other team, so his stats were so meaningful.
“As good as he was defensively, he was such an offensive player that he didn’t cheat on it.
“I don’t remember him ever getting caught up the ice. His partners might go and get caught. But I don’t remember him not getting back into the play.
“We charted some games and when Nick made a play to a teammate, on the resulting play we retained the puck. He wasn’t just throwing the puck up to get rid of it and keep us out of trouble. His passing skills were superb, effortless. He could look at a player and put it right on a guy’s stick.”
Lidstrom’s perception and skill helped secure a fundamental element of Red Wings’ hockey.
“That helped us be a good two-way team,” Bowman said. “Because you need the puck, and puck possession was a big part of our game.”
Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, said Lidstrom “perfected the art of just being mistake free” and was “consistently excellent.”
“But Nick’s excellence was not about trying to do things that were extraordinary,” he said. “He was just always in position. When you were open, he passed it to you. When it was time to shoot, he shot it.”
During 20 seasons, Lidstrom won four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He was a 12-time All-Star.
He played more games for one franchise than any European-born player in history.
In 1,564 regular season games, he had 1,142 points (264 goals). In 263 playoff games, he had 183 points (54 goals).
“To me he’s one of the greatest defensemen to ever play in the league, let alone the Detroit organization,” Yzerman said. “And I think over time, people have recognized just how really, really good he was.
“You know, he’s a quiet guy. He lives a quiet life. He’s not out there seeking recognition or publicity.”
Fedorov’s star burned hotter in his years in Detroit.
“We would not have won the second cup in ‘98, if he had not re-signed with us,” Bowman said, referring to Fedorov receiving an offer sheet from the Hurricanes — Karmanos’ team, ironically — before rejoining the roster more than halfway through the season.
“He had an awesome playoff.”
Among the finest forwards of their time, Yzerman and Shanahan still speak with awe of Fedorov.
“It was almost as if he could just decide he was going to go up ice and score a goal,” Shanahan said. “I remember different plays in both of those playoff years (1997 and 1998) where he did that.”
Shanahan remembers the details of some of Fedorov’s big playoff goals so well, he can still call describe the play-by-play.
“Sergei might be the most naturally gifted and talented player I ever played with,” he said. “He was a phenomenal skater, he had an incredible shot and he had great puck control.”
Yzerman said, simply, “He had everything.”
“He was one of the best skaters I’ve ever seen, and the combination of his size, a big, strong, powerful man, and with great skill. So, he kind of had the whole package.”
For Bowman, rolling out Yzerman and Fedorov as the two top centers was essential to the Red Wings ascendancy.
“With him and Yzerman at center, we were able to rival the best teams in the league,” said Bowman, who occasionally played Fedorov on defense.
“Sergei was a unique player in that he could have played defense equally as well. Not too many players in the history of the league have played at a high level, both forward and defense.”
Fedorov won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and, in 1994, the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP.
It was the first Hart won by the Red Wings since Gordie Howe, 31 years earlier. (Howe’s sixth Hart.)
In 1,248 regular-season games for the Wings, Ducks, Capitals and Blue Jackets, Fedorov had 1,179 points (483 goals). In 183 playoff games, he had 176 points (52 goals).
When his hall of fame induction was announced, Fedorov talked about defecting from Russia in a cloak-and-dagger operation over the Canadian border after a Russian team played in Vancouver.
“That was a hard decision,” he said. “But I was very, very young, 20 years old. I don’t think I knew fully what I was doing. But my dream was to play in front of 20,000 people in the stands because I experienced that in a super series with the Russia army team a couple of years before that.
“When I was coming to the Red Wings, I had no idea what was going to happen to me, other than playing hockey. And, I don’t know, I’m in Detroit right now, with my mom. And we’re hanging out. And we heard the news, and it was exciting.”
It is with a bit of wistfulness that Yzerman and Shanahan are looking back at some glory years of a franchise that achieves greatness in Detroit.
“It’s amazing when you hear some people say the number of years that have passed, you know?” Shanahan said.
“But it’s still in some ways — I am sitting in my office in Toronto right now looking at photos of all of us in 2002 in the dressing room — in some ways it does feel like it was just yesterday.
“We had a lot of fun.
“It was the most competitive group of people I ever played with. I mean, we couldn’t sit in an airport or a practice rink without devising some sort of game, and guys would be breaking out in full sweat.”
For Yzerman, it is much the same.
“When you get a chance to talk to some of the media about them and you look back, it was really a lot of fun for us as players,” he said.
“We had all these really, really good players, but the egos never got in the way. Everybody played to win. Everyone got along.
“We were all very different, from different countries, different backgrounds and what not. When we got in the locker room everybody played to win, and did everything best for the team.
“This is a great opportunity to reflect on a really special time in all our careers.”
Hockey Hall of Fame
All events in Toronto
Players: Sergei Fedorov, Phil Housley, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Angela Ruggerio
Builders: Bill Hay, Peter Karmanos
Today: Hockey Hall of Fame game — Red Wings at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. (FSD)
Saturday: Inductee Fan Forum, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday: Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic — Team Gilmour vs. Team Bure, 3 p.m.
Monday: Induction Ceremony, 8 p.m. (NHL)