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Detroit Red Wings

Swedish Coach Garpenlov Tutored Lidstrom



Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Nicklas Lidstrom credits Johan Garpenlov, his first-year Red Wings teammate, for convincing him that he could make it in the NHL.

Things certainly didn’t go swimmingly for Sweden at the IIHF World Championship. Finishing ninth with a 3-3-1 record, the Swedes failed to make the medal round.

There was a distinct Detroit Red Wings twinge to the Swedish coaching staff in Latvia. Former Wings forward Johan Garpenlov was the head coach. Among his assistants was former NHL defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson, the uncle of current Detroit rearguard Gustav Lindstrom.

Garpenlov is remembered for enjoying a splendid rookie season with the Wings in 1990-91. The left winger put up 18-22-40 totals in 71 games that season, including a four-goal game against the St. Louis Blues.

The following season, though, even though he compiled just a goal and an assist in 16 games before being traded to the San Jose Sharks, was clearly the season in which Garpenlov played his most significant role for the team.

The Hockey World According To Garpenlov

In training camp and through the early part of the season during the 1991-92 campaign, Garpenlov was the one who took Detroit rookie defenseman and fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom under his wing and taught him the ways of North American lifestyle.

When Lidstrom and I worked together on his book The Pursuit Of Perfection, the two men discussed how this scenario all unfolded. In Lidstrom’s mind, Garpenlov’s influence played a significant role in helping him to determine he’d stay much longer in Detroit than he’d originally planned.

“Being the only other Swede on the Red Wings at that time, it was given that I would take care of him,” Garpenlov explained. 

The two would first meet as teammates on the Swedish team at the 1991 Canada Cup.

“I didn’t know much about Nicklas before we met on the Canada Cup team,” Garpenlov said. “I think the tournament was a good experience before the adventure that awaited him in Detroit.”

When he first visited Detroit in the summer of 1991, Lidstrom admitted to being overwhelmed by it all. “Everything was so big,” Lidstrom recalled.

Garpenlov showed Lidstrom around the city. He schooled his younger teammate on how to acclimatize himself to living in a vastly different culture than what they were used to back home. Garpenlov enabled Lidstrom to settle in and feel comfortable in his new life. 

Learning To Stand His Ground

On the ice, Garpenlov also advised Lidstrom on how to deal with the differences between hockey in Sweden and in the NHL. It wouldn’t be necessary for Lidstrom to drop his gloves and fight, Garpenlov explained. It would be mandatory that Lidstrom show the other players in the league that he would stand up for himself and couldn’t be intimidated.

“There is no reason for a Swede to keep getting into fights and Nicklas knew that,” Garpenlov said. “It was also something that our tough guys pointed out to us. ‘We´ll take care of that,’ they said. 

“At the same time, you could not show that you were scared. You had to stand your ground and I think Nicklas did that from the beginning. He understood the level he should be at and started right there.”

Originally, Lidstrom and his wife Annika were of the opinion that his playing for the Wings would be a fun experience for the both of them, but that it would be a short-term gig.

“My thinking was in the line of, ‘Well, I´ll play a couple of years there and then we´ll move home again,” Lidstrom said. “My initial deal with the Red Wings was for two years with an extra option year. I had no further plans than that.”

Instead, he stayed two decades and became a generational star. Lidstrom ended up winning seven Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and four Stanley Cups.

Paying It Forward

Years later, as an established NHL star, Lidstrom paid forward what Garpenlov had done for him. Henrik Zetterberg is the man who eventually succeeded Lidstrom as Red Wings captain. In 2002, Zetterberg joined the team as a rookie straight out of Sweden. He was taken under the tutelage of Lidstrom.

“These are things you start to think about when you get older,” Zetterberg said. “Today I´m aware of what a big part Nick played in my career, both on and off the ice.”

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