He snuck up on folks. Both on the ice and off.
It’s not that you didn’t see Henrik Zetterberg coming, it’s that you often didn’t see him at all.
Whether he was behind the play, waiting… out of the view of the broadcast camera, before sneaking into a crease to take a pass and redirect it into the net, or whether he was walking inside Somerset Mall, an invisible superstar, content to fade into the crowd.
He’s fading out of the game the same way. A more prominent and recognizable figure now, certainly. But a player whose game peaked years ago.
Zetterberg announced he was giving up his skates Friday morning. A victim of too much back pain. That pain slowed him down in the later part of his career and muddied our memory of just how good he used to be.
Even in his diminished state, he leaves a gaping hole. Both in how he mentored the roster’s youngsters, and the way he wore his captain’s “C” on his jersey.
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Ken Holland, the team’s general manager, said he’ll remember Zetterberg as one of the greatest players in franchise history. But he’ll also remember his presence in the locker room. Because he must replace that, too.
“He’s a stand-up guy,” Holland said Friday morning from training camp. “He was (the one) answering all the questions on behalf of the team (after a loss).”
The first time I met with Zetterberg for an extended conversation came in the winter of 2008. We sat down in a low-lit lounge inside Joe Louis Arena, and whenever a teammate passed by he’d stop and do a double-take, then rib Zetterberg for “finally” talking about himself to the “American” media.
Back in his native Sweden, Zetterberg already was a star, the subject of back-page stories, and big enough for Swedish television producers to send crews to Detroit. In fact, not long before I interviewed him, the hosts of a home-makeover show in Sweden spent time filming the Red Wings’ forward.
It was an American reality show crossed with IKEA, meant to highlight the pithy side of one of the world’s best two-way hockey players. But in the U.S., even in Detroit, he could snag a table at his favorite restaurant in peace.
This was the year the Wings won the Stanley Cup. Zetterberg was dominant. And yet, he hadn’t connected with Hockeytown yet. Holland was struggling to figure it out.
He recalled being at a lunch earlier that season when the topic came up.
“It was me, Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock,” Holland said then. “Someone mentioned that people feel because he is European, it is not the same.”
He didn’t buy it. Sergei Federov had come from Russia. Nik Lidstrom from Sweden. Holland believed Zetterberg’s under-the-radar stardom was more complicated.
Partly because of the nature of Zetterberg’s game — he wasn’t especially fast or quick, he wasn’t big, he wasn’t flashy.
And partly because of his natural reticence.
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Yzerman reminded the lunch crowd that day that he, too, had been a reluctant interview in Detroit, and that he, too, wasn’t always so sure of himself.
“Stevie grew into that,” Holland said, “people fell in love with him because he played hard every night and because they won.”
Fans tend to react more readily to brashness, to outward confidence, to did-you-see-that skill. And if Hockeytown never completely fell in love with Zetterberg, it did eventually embrace him.
Winning that 2008 Cup helped. As did his steady, relentless push to be great.
Was he great?
At times, absolutely. He and Pavel Datsyuk outplayed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during the Cup run. And, for a time, there wasn‘t a better two-way player in the game.
Except for Datsyuk.
That was the other shadow Zetterberg had to navigate … the shine of his own teammate, along with the memory of all those Hall of Famers he followed.
On the surface, he leaves the game with a Hall-of-Fame case himself. But he’s not a lock.
What we can’t quibble with is the legacy he’s left in Hockeytown.
At his best, he was a pro’s pro, a savvy, instinctive all-ice player who played stronger than his frame and whose understanding of the game’s rhythms and angles helped him thrive in ways that weren’t always obvious.
Or, as Holland said Friday morning, Zetterberg helped carry “this franchise for a decade.”
Even when we didn’t always notice him doing it.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.
Source : https://www.freep.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2018/09/14/detroit-red-wings-had-invisible-star-henrik-zetterberg/1305639002/