Henrik Lundqvist hangs ‘em up
by Andrew Podnieks|20 AUG 2021
Henrik Lundqvist (left) celebrates with this twin brother Joel after leading Sweden to gold at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Henrik Lundqvist, almost certainly the greatest goaltender to come out of Sweden, has announced his retirement today, 20 August, less than a year after undergoing successful open-heart surgery. 

The 39-year-old Lundqvist leaves behind a legacy that includes Olympics gold and silver (2006, 2014), World Championship gold and silver (2017, 2004), and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals with the New York Rangers in 2014. He is the fourth-closest goalie to achieve Triple Gold Club status after Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and Roberto Luongo, a membership that has yet to welcome a goalie.

Lundqvist got his first chance playing serious hockey with Frolunda in Gothenburg, Sweden, first with the junior team and then the senior team. He was drafted a lowly 205th overall by the Rangers in the year 2000 when he was 18, but he was still a long way from coming to North America. Prior to being drafted he had led Sweden to a bronze medal at the U18 World Championship, and in 2001 and 2002 he played at the World Juniors, posting a 6-2-6 record in 14 games. 

Lundqvist played at the 2004 and 2006 World Championships, winning a silver medal in the former and posting a 5-2-1 record and GAA of 1.64, which got him onto the tournament all-star team. 

It wasn’t until 2005-06 that he moved to the U.S. to begin his NHL career. At first, he was supposed to be backup to Kevin Weekes, but an injury to Weekes early in the season gave Lundqvist a chance that he made the most of. He ended up playing 53 games that year and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy voting, but in a year in which Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin led a stacked league of rookies into the post-lockout world of the NHL, Lundqvist wasn’t nominated for the Calder Trophy.

Early in the season after playing well in a win, Lundqvist was nicknamed “King Henrik” by New York Post reporter Larry Brooks. It was to be a nickname that quickly became his defining identifier for the next decade and a half. 

But Lundqvist’s rookie NHL season was nothing compared to what occurred midway through the year when the NHL participated in the Olympics in Turin. “Hank” backstopped Tre Kronor to the gold medal, making a game-saving save off Finland’s Olli Jokinen in the dying seconds of the final game.

Back in the NHL, Lundqvist was known for a disciplined style of play and an incredible consistency. He was the first goalie in NHL history to win at least 30 games in his first seven seasons, and he later became the first goalie to win at least 20 games in 13 seasons. He won his only Vezina Trophy in 2011-12, but the closest he came to glory was in 2014 when he led the Rangers to the Cup finals against Los Angeles. The Kings prevailed in five games, however, preventing Lundqvist from becoming the first ever Triple Gold Club goalie.

Lundqvist also played for Tre Kronor at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and won a silver at the 2014 Games in Sochi, losing to Crosby and Canada in the final game by a 3-0 score. He played at the 2016 World Cup and a year later took Sweden to World Championship gold, beating Canada 2-1 in a penalty-shot shootout. His last international appearance was at the 2019 Worlds, when Tre Kronor finished fifth.

Lundqvist was the foundation of the Rangers for 15 years, but by the 2019-20 season it was clear that two young Russian goaltenders – Alexander Georgiev and Igor Shestyorkin – were the way of the future for the Blueshirts. The team bought out the final year of his contract, and the “King Henrik” era on Broadway was over. 

Determined to continue playing, however, he signed a contract with the Washington Capitals, only to discover heart problems soon after. He underwent surgery but missed the entire 2020-21 season, and upon reflection decided to retire today back at Frolunda’s home rink to begin the next chapter of his life.

The Rangers reacted by tweeting a photoshopped image of a number 30 team banner hanging from the rafters of Madison Square Garden, assuring fans that his number would be officially retired during the upcoming season.

Lundqvist led Sweden to some of its greatest victories, and in the NHL he established himself as one of the greatest goalies of the modern era. He retires having played 887 regular-season games, and his 459 victories stands sixth on the all-time list and number one among European goalies.

Over and above his on-ice play, Lundqvist was respected for his charity work in New York and his warm and outgoing personality. He played the game well, but he represented it even better. He will one day make his way into the Hockey Hall of Fame and IIHF Hall of Fame, but in the meantime the NHL and international hockey is just a little the lesser now for the loss of King Henrik.