30 in 15: Lundqvist looking forward to eventful season
Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 3:00 AM
NEW YORK -- You never forget the first time you come to New York City. Henrik Lundqvist is no different.
The New York Rangers goaltender may be an icon in the city that never sleeps. But there was once a time when the bright-eyed then-23-year-old from Are, Sweden (pop. 1,417, per the 2010 census), was first taken by the constant bustle of Manhattan. Eight years later, New York is home and the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is looking forward to what could potentially be the biggest season of his illustrious career.
But he still remembers that first time in New York.
"Everything is louder, it's more. More energy, more people, more traffic, more stuff to do. You can just feel it when you come into the city. The energy is different compared to back home," Lundqvist told NHL.com. "Now it's my everyday life, it's my routine to go to the Garden and play. It makes me feel more comfortable and it's easier for me to perform. If you asked me 10 years ago, I would think a couple of times about it. Now it's my life. I think you need to get used to it, so you're more comfortable with everything but still appreciate it."
Lundqvist may appreciate his place in New York. But "appreciate" doesn't begin to describe how the city feels about him. He's a star in a city with a long history of sports legends. That tends to happen when you collect 276 wins (second most in Rangers history), play in three All-Star games and win an Olympic gold medal, all with his signature grace.
With 30 wins in his first NHL season, it wasn't long before the 2000 seventh-round pick (No. 205) became New York royalty. He even has the nickname, King Henrik, to prove it. Granted, it's a nickname he begrudgingly accepts, so just don't expect Lundqvist to call himself "King."
"I would never. It's good if people understand why it's King Henrik. It's an old king name, that's how it came about," Lundqvist said. "It still makes me a little uncomfortable. It's because of my name and not my actions. If my name wasn't Henrik, it would not be King Henrik, it would be something else."
That reticence to get too wrapped up in all the fanfare typifies Lundqvist. In fact, the intense Swedish kid who captured the city's heart has only mellowed with age. Some of that comes with becoming a father. Lundqvist's daughter, Charlise, was born in 2012 and the goaltender admits the experience of raising a young family has tempered some of his signature intensity. But it hasn't altered his will to win.
"Hockey is always going to be so important to me, but there are moments where you might become your own enemy because you put too much pressure on yourself. To have something else going on in your life helps you find that balance. To have a kid, I think it makes me more relaxed," Lundqvist said. "I was more intense when I was younger. But I'm still going to be super intense when it comes to the game. I love to compete and practice. It hasn't changed. I appreciate where I'm at, but at the same time I know I have to work real hard to stay there."
Entering the 2013-14 season, he may actually have his work cut out for him. The pillar of a Rangers team that came within two wins of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, Lundqvist leads a club with a new coaching staff that is hoping to improve on last season's second-round playoff exit. The team will also be competing in two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. Played against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 26 and New York Islanders on Jan. 29, the two contests will be something new for an athlete who has seen almost everything his sport has to offer.
Those games will be a prelude to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where Lundqvist hopes to win gold for Sweden. He's done it before, on the 2006 team led by veterans like Nicklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson. But only five members of that gold-medal team attended this year's Swedish orientation camp, so Lundqvist will now be looked upon to help lead the next generation of Swedish stars like Gabriel Landeskog, Jonas Brodin and Erik Karlsson.
"Back then I was very young on a team with a lot of veterans. Big names, big players. It was my first year [in New York]. There were so many things happening in my life that were new to me," Lundqvist said. "Now I kind of know what to expect, but I also feel more responsibility. I feel the same way here in New York. The first years you try to fit in and get a spot and then keep your spot. The longer you stay here, the more you feel for the organization and everything that goes on around it. You feel more obligated to help out. That's a good feeling."
It took a little while, but Lundqvist has become a master in handling the pace of New York. All that patience, intensity and experience could be put to the test this season. After all, he's tasked with nothing short of starring in two outdoor games, capturing Olympic gold and propelling the Rangers back to the Cup Final.
Naturally, he can't wait to get started.
"I'm excited for the new coaching staff to come in and see what they can do. The outdoor game is going to be amazing," Lundqvist said. "Playing at Yankee Stadium is something we talked about for years that we wanted to do here. Now it's going to happen twice. I can't wait. Then the Olympics, which is a great experience. A lot of different things happening."