It’s been a long time since I wrote on this blog — or anywhere else for that matter.
Life’s been strange, with consistent inconsistencies taking hold of my everyday routine. When I think things are going well and that I’m finally on the right track to being a slight success in one way or another, something seems to get in the way. When I can stare at a ceiling and think I come to some stirring realization about my life and what my future entails, and I ‘wake up’ and feel pessimistic about what I was dreaming about, it tears me apart.
It’s funny how certain things remind you of different times, better times in some ways. That happened to me today and inspired me to start writing about my misadventures again.
One of my favorite professional athletes retired today: No. 5, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.
Lidstrom was no ordinary hockey player, oh no. He is an icon, a giant in not only hockey lore but all of sports the past 100 years. I could go on and on about his athletic achievements, from winning championships in the National Hockey League or winning gold medals in the Olympics or being named the NHL’s best defenseman seven times, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story.
As good as Lidstrom was on the ice, he was an even greater person off of it.
He is a family man with four children (all boys), and he is thankful for his loving wife for raising the kids when he was on the road. He was cordial with everybody associated with the Red Wings organization, from his teammates and coaches to fans and even the woman who made the team sandwiches prior to games. He realized that every component of the big machine had its role, and it took all those pieces to complete the puzzle. The puzzle, of course, was winning a Stanley Cup and being known as the greatest team in all the land.
I have mixed feelings about all of this. I knew he would retire at some point soon, but not now. Not today.
See, sports have played a major role in who I am today. The wins, the losses, the championships and all the great athletes I have seen and met (including Lidstrom, as a both a fan and magazine reporter) — they all linger in my cranium. I remember all the famous moments, from where I was watching a game to how I was celebrating following a glorious moment of elation (like winning a championship). I remember the sad moments, too, like being extremely intoxicated and almost moved to tears in a Buffalo Wild Wings bathroom when the Red Wings were defeated in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
But it all connects in a weird way.
I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids my age, all boys. Groups of us would jump on our Huffy bikes and bike miles away to the nearest trading card store. We all felt grown up, going off on our own adventures around town, crossing main roads and flying through intersections. And when we reached the store, we would always greet the owner and rummage through a store full of cards. We mostly bypassed the football and basketball cards, maybe bought some baseball cards here and there. But hockey cards were what those journeys were always about.
I can still name random players from the 1990s, like Vincent Damphousse and Kjell Samuellson. There were goalies like Tom Barrasso and Jim Carey (not the actor, though we always joked and wondered why Ace Ventura was in net for the Boston Bruins). The bike rides with friends and spending our allowance on glossy pieces of paper…those are some of my fondest memories.
And when Lidstrom spoke today at what will probably be the last press conference in which he will ever be a part, it seemed like his words were coming through my computer and finding a resting spot in my cerebellum — the place where those boyish bike rides took place. My eyes watered as I remembered those friends, those card collections and watching all those games with my dad. Lidstrom’s retirement is a void in a life I come to understand more and more by the day.
I will one day (hopefully) tell my own children about watching this great player in a red sweater, donning the No. 5 and being a surgeon on skates. I will tell them how I met him in middle school, immediately after I had received one of the worst haircuts of my life, and that meeting him was one of my greatest life experiences.
I’m happy for him. I hope he enjoys a long fruitful life, lives to be 100 years old and we will still be talking about how great he was at the game of hockey.
More importantly, we will all talk about the person he was and how his professionalism and sincerity will never be overshadowed. And I, a kid from Sterling Heights, will always have my collection of Nicklas Lidstrom trading cards to look at and realize that my childhood was pretty damn good.