Cool as a cucumber

Super-Swede Henrik Lundqvist rushes to Quebec to play for King and country.

12.05.2008
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Quebec City Quebec Canada

"When we were standing on the blue line, listening to the national anthem, I knew that that was the reason I decided to come and play here," says Henrik Lundqvist. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Matthew Manor

QUEBEC CITY – Alexander Ovechkin’s goal against Sweden with just 5.6 seconds remaining maybe a blessing in disguise for the Swedes. The fact that Henrik Lundqvist lost his cool and smashed his stick against the cross bar tells you how badly he wants to win the next battle against the Russians.

See, Lundqvist never loses his cool.

He is Mr. Cool.

Look it up in a dictionary, and you should see a photo of the tall, dark, handsome Swede, smiling a million-dollar smile. There’s that cool.

And then there’s the cool he shows on the ice, focusing on his own game, day in, day out, carrying his team as far as a goalie can, whether it’s the New York Rangers or Team Sweden. The 26-year-old got his third straight Vezina nomination after finishing the season with 37 wins and a 2.23 GAA in career-high 72 games with the Rangers.

“I’m happy with the season. I said in September that I wanted to play as much as possible, and I got to do that,” Lundqvist says.

“It would a real honour to win the Vezina trophy, obviously, even if as a whole, I think my last season was probably better than this one,” he said, referring to a slump in the middle of the season, as his father was hospitalized when he suffered a brain aneurysm and underwent surgery.

Well. Lundqvist still racked up as many wins as the year before, tying Ed Giacomin for the most wins in a single season by a Ranger goalie. Mike Richter still tops that category with his 42 wins in 1993-94. Lundqvist recorded ten shutouts, most by a Ranger goalie since the 1920s when John Ross Roach (1929) and Lorne Chabot (1928) had 13 and 11 shutouts, respectively.

His GAA was his best in his three NHL seasons, which must feel good, considering the goals against average is the indicator Lundqvist says he follows most closely.

“That’s what being goalie is all about, letting in as few goals as possible. The save percentage may be misleading sometimes, because teams have different systems, and some goalies may face 30 shots in a game, but only ten of them are real scoring chances. Another goalie only has 20 saves, but there are still ten real scoring chances,” he says.

With three years with the Rangers under his belt, Lundqvist is becoming a true New Yorker, enjoying life in the Big Apple with everything it has to offer. And that’s a lot.

“I really enjoy living in New York, and it feels good to know that I’m going to be there for a long time,” says Lundqvist who this spring signed a six-year contract extension with the Rangers.

Lundqvist is one of the players the Rangers are building their team around as they continue their Cup quest next season. In 1994, the Rangers had waited 40 years to win the Cup, and now it’s been another 14 years.

“That’s the dream I have. To win the Stanley Cup in New York. It would be huge,” he says as he muses about his fellow Ranger superstar, Jaromir Jagr.

“In the last two weeks of our season I really thought about Jagr, and how great it is to have had him as a teammate. I hope he’ll come back next year,” he said.

But, the Cup remains a dream for Lundqvist. The Pittsburgh Penguins sent the Rangers packing in the second round of the NHL playoffs. That’s when Team Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson called.

“I asked him to give me 24 hours to think about joining the team in the World Championship, but already the next morning I felt that I wanted to come,” he says.

With all the Swedish NHLers declining to come to the tournament, Swedish reporters were astounded when Lundqvist said yes and he’s had to explain himself over and over again.

“Playing in the national team was the big dream for me growing up, and now that I play in the NHL, the opportunity to represent Sweden every year is not something that I can take for granted. I can’t explain it, I just felt that I wanted to come,” he says.

So ready was Lundqvist to play for his country that a few weeks earlier, he had sent in an order for a new mask that combes his usual Statue of Liberty motif with the Swedish colours, blue and yellow.

"When we were standing on the blue line, listening to the national anthem, I knew that that was the reason I decided to come and play here. It was a great feeling," he said after his first game in the tournament, against Denmark.

In 2003, in the World Championship in Helsinki, Finland, Lundqvist was the third goalie behind Tommy Salo and Mikael Tellqvist, and didn’t see any action in the tournament. Now he’s the star who joins the team midway through the tournament, leaving Tellqvist and Stefan Liv as back-ups.

“That’s something else I’ve thought about a lot now. Tommy Salo played a lot of games in the NHL, but he always came to the World Championships, and he should get a lot of respect for that,” Lundqvist says.

Lundqvist is 1-1 in this tournament, and the ever-important goals-against-average sits at 2.00. The battle between Ovechkin and Lundqvist is 1-0 for Ovechkin. For now. Lundqvist is ready for another round should the teams meet in the quarterfinal – even if he says he doesn’t pay any attention to who he’s playing against.

“I don’t really focus on individual players, but instead, I try to be really focused on my own game, so that I stick to my way of playing, and doing things right,” he says.

OK, Henrik. That’s cool.

RISTO PAKARINEN

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