JÖNKÖPING, Sweden – He wasn’t born there, he was born in Poland 31 years ago. He didn’t die there, he died in a plane crash in Russia four months ago. But it was Jönköping, on the southern shore of Vättern, one of Sweden’s great lakes, that embraced Stefan Liv. And it was Jönköping that Stefan Liv embraced back. It was Stefan Liv’s home, his happy place.
Of all the happy places in Jönköping, Kinnarpsarenan, the home rink of HV71, was one of the happiest ones for both Liv and the people who were so proud of him.
On Tuesday, Stefan Liv’s number 1 was raised to the rafters of Kinnarpsarenan, an honour he had dreamed about. His plan had been to play a couple of years in the KHL, then come back to HV71 and Jönköping, and add a few titles to the three he had already won with the club.
“[He thought that] the retiring of his number would be ultimate proof that he had been as important to the club as it had been to him,” said Anna Liv, Stefan’s widow, in a message to the fans, read by Magnus Carlsson, HV71’s conditioning coach, the Livs’ close friend, and the pastor who performed the couple’s wedding ceremony in the summer of 2011.
“We all wish that this day would have come in ten, fifteen years from now, and that Stefan would be standing here on the ice and hear the fans. But I am convinced that Stefan is with us today, and that he’s very proud and honoured,” she said.
Before Anna Liv’s message, a tribute film was played on the jumbotron, with messages from former teammates over the course of Liv’s career. They all repeated the same, wonderful message about Liv as the ultimate teammate.
“He was always smiling, always in a good mood,” said Jimmy Howard, Liv’s teammate and roommate in 2006-07 with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.
“When I think of him, I think of that smile,” he added.
Henrik Lundqvist was Liv’s Tre Kronor teammate in two World Championship tournaments, and the 2006 Olympics.
“One of the things to look forward to when playing with the national team, was the opportunity to be with Stefan,” he said.
“Even at the 2006 Olympics, while he didn’t play much, he was such an integral part of the team,” said Nicklas Lidström.
When IIHF.com, three years ago, spoke with Liv about his backup role in the national team, he was first smiling, then laughing when he said:
“I’ve been here a long time, and maybe the reason I’ve got to be here is that I’ve never complained about not getting to play. If I get a chance, I’ll do my best and try to be a good teammate. If that means that I’ll only play the bronze medal game in the Worlds, so be it.”
In 2009, he played the bronze medal game, and won it for Sweden on his own, leaving everything on the ice, Rickard Wallin told the Kinnarpsarenan audience in his message.
Because while Liv was a gentle and fun-loving man, he was also fiercely competitive. In the 2004 Swedish finals, he shut Färjestad out four times, including back to back in Games 6 and 7. But while he wanted to win, he wanted to win in style, and on his terms.
“Of course I’d do anything to win, but I want to win on our terms and because we’re good, not because somebody gets injured or has a bad day,” he said in the same IIHF.com interview.
On January 10, 2012, at 18.45 Jönköping time, Fredrik Stillman, Per Gustafsson, Stefan Örnskog, the three players with their sweaters already in the rafters, Stefan Liv’s brother Christian, and Stefan Liv’s son, Herman, 5, walked to the center ice, to release the banner with “Liv 1” on it.
“With your love, Stefan will always be with us. He will also live inside the two most beautiful gifts he gave me: our sons Herman, and Harry. While nobody will wear HV71’s number 1 ever again, I have a feeling that in the future, we’ll see the name “Liv” on HV71 sweaters again,” said Anna Liv.
Watch HV71’s tribute to Stefan Liv here.