STOCKHOLM Ė The general consensus amongst hockey experts is that the best defenceman, and maybe even the best player, to ever come out of Europe was former Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas LidstrŲm.
The now-retired Swede, winner of four Stanley Cups, an Olympic and World Championship gold, and a twelve-time Norris trophy nominee for best defenceman (he won seven of them), sat down with IIHF.com to talk about his new life outside the game.
Howís retirement treating you? Bored yet?
Not bored (laughs). Iíve been helping out with my kidsĎ hockey, Iím an assistant coach with one of my sonís teams, and with four sons playing hockey itís definitely keeping my schedule full. And then with the World Championship coming up Iíve been doing a little bit of work with that and more when we get closer to the start of the tournament. On top of all that weíre also building a house here in Sweden, and with my scouting job with the Red Wings I donít have too much of a problem filling out my schedule.
So youíre enjoying being a full-time hockey dad?
Oh yeah itís great I really enjoy it. When I was playing it was really difficult, especially on weekends, to get out and watch the kids play. Now Iím able to get to nearly all their games, either behind the bench or as a spectator in the stands, I really enjoy being there on an everyday basis now.
Youíve been living in the U.S. for 21 years, whatís it been like returning to Sweden?
Itís been different. Itís another lifestyle, especially when youíre playing youíre so busy all the time with games and travelling and whatnot, and now every really slows down and also the lifestyle in Sweden has been different than the US which me and my wife have had to get used to.
Weíve spent our summers here every year before coming over, but itís different now with the kids in school. It gets darker here earlier and daily life isn't the same, but itís been good for us and we enjoy being closer to other family members who before could only visit us once or twice a year.
Anything you miss about living in Detroit?
I think what I miss most is the locker room chat, being in the locker room and hanging out with the guys. When you go out on the road you go out and have dinner and you really get that camaraderie that is hard to replace when youíre outside of hockey. Youíre so used to being around your teammates all the time that they almost become part of your family. I miss that part, the locker room part, but also the playing part: being in situations where youíre competing. Important situations like when youíre up a goal or down a goal, the competitiveness during close games, and playing in front of 20,000 people.
On the flipside, is there anything you donít miss?
Probably the travel schedule, travelling so much being away from your family for so long. That gets tougher as you get older and you have kids, for example going to play in the west coast for a week or ten days, coming back and playing a game then youíre off for another week, thatís something I donít miss.
You mentioned that youíre staying one with the organisation as a scout, is it easier as a former NHL player to transition into scouting?
It helps, youíre familiar with different situations on the ice and seeing how players think and react to these situations is a big part of scouting. So I think it helps in that sense, being recently retired and being so close to the game for over twenty years.
Back in December you were announced as an official ambassador for the 2013 World Championship, are there any projects that youíre currently involved in with this role?
Thereís some small things that weíve done up to now, radio ads and things of that nature, we're having a program called ďMy GameĒ where the ambassadors: myself, Peter Forsberg, and Mats Sundin can distribute tickets to a cause or organisation of our choice. For me I wanted to give back to grassroots hockey where I grew up, and I invited a few players and their parents to one of the games in the tournament. So Iím involved with that leading up to the tournament, and looking at the start of the tournament Iím very excited to get things started and be involved as a spectator, rather than as a player.
Looking at the tournament as an analyst, what would you say Sweden needs to do to win the championship on home ice this year?
Looking at the games last year, the team was very good offensively, but on the defensive side of the puck they didnít play as well. I think they have to play better in their own zone in order to have success and go deep into the tournament. I think team defence is going to be very important for Sweden, and it will also depend on who will be available for the tournament too, you know with the NHLís last game on April 27th itís a tight window and not a lot of time until the start of the tournament.
One player who was very impressive for Sweden in last yearís tournament was 22-year-old defenceman Erik Karlsson, whatís your assessment of him?
Heís got a bright future in front of him, too bad that injury happened. He really turned it up last year playing with some great speed and great determination, and he plays really well defensively without the puck. Thatís important when youíre a very strong offensive player, to be able to be a great all-around defenceman, and I think that he did that really well last season and heís just going to get better and better for years to come.
Do you see yourself getting back to hockey as a coach or manager at a high level?
Not as of right now, maybe down the road in a year or two or maybe a few years if I get that hunger back. For now Iím pleased to be an assistant coach for my twelve year oldís team, being on the ice and teaching the kids how to play hockey.
We got the Winter Olympics coming up next year, have you been approached about maybe putting on the national team jersey once more?
No nobodyís asked me to put on the jersey yet, I got a couple of calls from the Red Wings and some teams in Sweden wondering if I was going to play. You know the Olympics is special, itís a special tournament and I got some fond memories from the one we had in Italy 2006, but if Iím not on the ice I might be up in the stands watching the tournament.
Going back to the tournament in Italy, how does it stack up against winning the Cup?
I rank them equally high, you know the Stanley Cup is a goal you set way back in training camp in September, and finally in June you achieve that goal after having played over 100 games, whereas the Olympics you get together for two weeks and then all of a sudden youíre back in the NHL again. But youíre representing your country and thatís whatís so special about it, and youíre playing against the top players from all the different countries, and thatís why I rank them just as equally high.
With that in mind do you feel that itís important for the game to have NHL players in Sochi?
I believe so, I believe you should have the best players available, and I know the players really enjoy playing in the tournaments, even though sometimes you have to travel a long ways and itís hard to adjust to the time difference and whatnot. But I truly believe that the NHL should be part of the Olympics.