Each day, the door opens, and the reporters charge inside. They fan across the locker room and surround the biggest stars. Sergei Fedorov gets a big group. Paul Coffey gets a big group. Steve Yzerman gets a big group.
Nicklas Lidstrom gets the two guys from Sweden. Day after day. Game after game. They sit by his locker and converse slowly, as if having a cup of coffee. They are there for one reason: to write about Nick. Nick at night. Nick in the morning.
“What about tonight’s game, Nick?” they will ask today.
“What about last night’s game, Nick?’ they will ask tomorrow.
They speak in Swedish. They take notes and nod. No hurry, no rush. They are a foreign island in an ocean of American and Canadian media at the Stanley Cup finals. Their assignment is clear: Get Nick.
“How does it feel to be in the semifinals, Nick?” they asked last week.
“How does it feel to be in the finals, Nick?” they asked this week.
Their stories go, every day, to several Swedish newspapers, including one in Vasteras, Nick’s “hockey” hometown — which is not the same as his actual hometown, Avesta. But then, you would know this if you were Swedish.
“What happened in Game 1, Nick?”
“What will happen in Game, 2, Nick? . . .”
To everyone else, Nicklas Lidstrom might be the quietest man in the Detroit locker room. If you are an American reporter, you know this: He is an excellent defenseman, he is the best-conditioned athlete on the team, he is thin, blond, extremely polite — and not exactly your first choice for a quote.
Unless you’re Swedish.
“We have only two players left,” laments Jan Larsson, one of the two Swedish reporters who make a daily habit of Lidstrom. “It is either Tommy Albelin from New Jersey, or Nick from Detroit. That is all.”
Just Nick. It’s a tree fit for a king
“What do you talk to them about?” I ask Lidstrom, after his countrymen have gone.
“Oh, many things,” he says, “what I think about the media, or what is the difference between this and the world championships.”
Lidstrom could answer in English. But nobody asks. For some reason, in these media-soaked finals, most reporters ignore him. They go to Dino Ciccarelli, Shawn Burr, Mike Vernon. Never mind that Lidstrom, 25, is a key to the defense, a key to the power play, a wicked slap-shooter, and maybe the most admired player by his teammates.
Never mind. Most reporters figure he’s Stefan Edberg on skates. All talent, no talk.
What they don’t know is that these Stanley Cup finals are broadcast live in Sweden at 2 a.m., and that Lidstrom’s friends there leave thoughts on his answering machine.
And they don’t know that Lidstrom was a New York Islanders fan growing up, because the Islanders had Swedish players, or that the food he misses most is meatballs and mashed potatoes, or that he is the only son of a foreman and a cafeteria worker who live in a town that is famous for — and I am not making this up — a tree.
“You know the story of King Gustav in the 1600s?” he asks.
Sure. Great story. I was telling it at a party the other nigh —
“In the 1600s, Denmark tried to capture Sweden, and King Gustav hid inside a tree. It was a big tree, and he crawled inside, and they didn’t find him.”
And this tree is in your hometown?
Is it a big tourist attraction?
Is there a museum or a monument? Is there a plaque? Anything?
“No. Just the tree.”
Those nutty Swedes. Can they party, or what?
By the way, I ask the two Swedish reporters, Larsson and Bengt Eriksson, if they know about the tree.
“What tree?” they ask, looking at each other. “Maybe you mean the Dala horse.”
The Dala horse?
“It’s a famous type of Swedish woodcarving. And the biggest one in the world is maybe 60 feet high, and painted red and yellow. It’s in Avesta.”
Wait a minute. Besides the tree, there’s a 60-foot wooden horse in Nicklas Lidstrom’s hometown?
“Right near the highway,” Eriksson says, proudly. “You’re surprised, yes? Usually, when you think biggest in the world, you think of America?”
Not when it comes to wooden horses. This is for bragging rights back home, too
Anyhow, this is what you pick up in the quieter corners of the locker room. Lidstrom is a hero back in Sweden, even though he left when he was 21 and jumped straight to the NHL. Kids back home wear his jersey. Had he stayed a few more years, he might be as popular as Mats Sundin. Says Larsson, “This championship is very important for Nick’s reputation in Sweden.”
So this evening, when the Wings host the Devils, at least one foreign town has a rooting interest. And at least two reporters already know their angle. Nick at night. Nick in the morning.
And, by the way, in case the Wings lose, and you’re really upset, just remember: Somewhere, thousands of miles from here, there’s a big wooden horse that wishes like hell it could get to a TV set.