It is not my/our habit to write about icehockey players in Teamhandballnews, and we do not know how many our readers know or care about this sport. Perhaps we touch a bit more often on football, in the context of governance, playing rules or some other aspect that lends itself to interesting comparisons with handball. For me personally, both sports are of great interest. In Sweden I grew up playing both handball and football, and I became a football referee just two years after I started in handball. In fact, I kept up the football refereeing for a dozen years also after moving from Goteborg to Washington D.C. And while I never really played icehockey (my skating was not very good!), it remains special for the simple reason that it is a sport where the traditions in Sweden and the U.S. are more equally prominent.
So I do follow the NHL regularly, especially now during the race for the Stanley Cup. And while he has often made life difficult for ‘my’ team, the Washington Capitals, my favorite player during the last 20 years has been Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. Yes, it may have something to do with the fact that he is a Swede, but it is much more related to the fact that he is one of the best role models whom I have ever come across in elite level sports. When he announced his retirement today, at the age of 42, he was immediately given a tremendous attention and many great current and former stars were lining up to offer him words of the highest praise.
He was voted the best defensemen in the NHL seven times; he was on the All-Star Team 12 times; he won the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit and on one of those occasions he was the MVP, the first one from Europe; he also won both Olympic and World Championship gold with Sweden. He played 1,827 NHL games, spending all his 20 years with Detroit. During those games he scored, as a defenseman, 318 goals and had 1,007 assists. Experts agree that he is one of the best two or three defenders ever to play the game. So it is not surprising that his retirement is drawing attention.
But more remarkable perhaps, during all these games, where he typically played more minutes than anyone and in all the important situations, he only had 590 penalty minutes. This is roughly one penalty per every six or seven games. It was suggested that his sense for the game and his anticipation allowed him to ‘be in the right place’ and avoid fouls, but it also said something about his sportsmanship. This also fits in with the remarks that were always heard but now today are the most conspicuous ones: he is humble, he is respectful, he is a leader, he is simply a great person! I really wish that, in handball and all other sports, where fair play and sportsmanship seem like old-fashioned qualities that have been shoved into the background, we had more players, more athletes who deserved to be talked about in this way!
And then, as I was preparing this write-up, came to my attention something that almost ruined my day but also provided a rather telling contrast, namely the comments from Jurgen Klinsmann, the football coach, after the U.S. lost 1-4 against Brazil last night. The U.S. team had won handily against Scotland a few days ago, and now the time had come to show perennial world champions Brazil that the U.S. team had ‘arrived’. But the Brazilians wanted none of that and simply went ahead and outclassed the U.S. team with a technically brilliant performance. So what were the comments from Klinsmann, himself a former world star player, afterwards: “maybe we are a little naïve; it seems we don’t want to hurt people, but that’s what you’ve got to do”; that echoed comments after a previous loss: “we need to get nastier!” Enough said….. Fortunately, U.S. media have reacted strongly.