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No One Could Play like Henrik
In retrospect, it was not the best or brightest question, but there was an upside to asking Cam Talbot about working with Henrik Lundqvist and New York Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire eight years ago and somewhat stupidly noting he didn’t play like the King.
“No one can play like Henrik,” Talbot replied politely.
Which brings us to Lundqvist’s retirement and what it sure to be an emotional night at Madison Square Garden on Friday, when his No. 30 is retired to the rafters, never to be worn by another Rangers player. For all the talk about Lundqvist’s place among the all-time greats that wore that sweater, it’s worth asking whether we’ll ever see another goalie like him in the NHL?
Talbot, who will be there for the jersey retirement with the Minnesota Wild, doesn’t think so.
“There’s things that I believe won’t be done again,” Talbot wrote in a text message to InGoal Magazine Thursday. “The biggest thing is the depth that he felt comfortable at his size. He was so quick laterally and his read of the release was so good he could play deep enough that always allowed him at least a chance at making the second save. Most goalies his size continue to play somewhere around the top of crease if not further out depending on the situation. I don’t think Hank ever stepped outside the top of his crease unless it was a breakaway!”
There are other elements that make Lundqvist stand out, even among his peers atop the NHL all-time wins and all-time greats list, especially when it comes to his meticulous attention to detail with his equipment and some of the innovations that came with that. But ad Talbot pointed out all those years ago, and again before the retirement ceremony, don’t overlook the uniqueness of how — and where in the crease — he played as a 6-foot-1 goalie.
Lundqvist adopted the goal line-out tactical approach of Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire in his rookie season, staying well back in his crease so he didn’t need to move as far to beat lateral plays, and relying on incredible patience on his skates to make saves without always dropping to both knees. His half-butterfly saves, with the glove-side pad staying up on saves to that side, have become something of a lost art, with Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings among the few remaining practitioners.
It may not stand out as obviously as a Dominik Hasek, with his barrel rolls and contortionist tendencies, but Lundqvist’s approach at least bordered one-of-a-kind, particularly when you consider others that adopted a similarly depth (Mike Smith, Sean Burke) were a lot bigger.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see somebody that looks like him stylistically and plays like him technique-wise. We haven’t seen it before or since, so what makes us believe we’re going to see it again in the future?” said Stephen Valiquette, who played with Lundqvist on the Rangers from 2006 to 2010 and now works with him as a studio analyst on MSG Network. “He played deep. He’d be on the goal line just reacting to shots from 20 feet that no one else had the courage to play from there. It takes a lot of courage to play deep.”
That’s because the style meant Lundqvist was always in position to make a save, and therefore more open to criticism when he didn’t. If a goalie who plays further out past the edges of his crease can’t get across in time on a cross-ice play, it’s common for announcers to say they “didn’t have a chance.” Lundqvist always gave himself a chance with how he played.
“Every goal looked like it was on him because he always got there,” Valiquette said. “He was never so far out of position that it looked like he never had a chance. That takes courage.”
InGoal examined the evolution of Lundqvist’s approach, and the remarkably consistent results it produced in Part 1 of a three-part tribute series when he announced his retirement:
We also took a looked at the way Lundqvist inspired the next generation of Swedish goaltenders – just as Patrick Roy inspired goalies in Quebec, Miikka Kiprusoff inspired Finnish goalies and Sergei Bobrovsky sparked a run of Russian greats — in Part 2 of that tribute series:
The third part focused on the equipment innovations, some of which will carry his name as an industry legacy as meaningful as the jersey hanging in the rafters (link below). From the above-teased Lundqvist loop on the back of the skates, to his role in development with Bauer, to sharpening his skates inside-edge high, Lundqvist stands alone.
He also had to stand – or walk – somewhat awkwardly as a result.
“When Henrik would walk to the ice from the from the locker room, he was walking on his outside edges, his feet would come under him and he almost looked like he was breaking his own ankles as he was walking onto the ice, almost bow-legged,” Valiquette recalled with a chuckle. “He had a great accomplice with [Rangers equipment manager Acacio “Cass” Marques] and every day Hank is on the carpet with his pads on 20-30 minutes before we’re on the ice, ‘Cass come here, can you see a daylight through here?’ and he’s trying to flare his pads, still keeping his knees together because he didn’t want his shoulders to crouch down. So you actually got a little more coverage up top but he was able to keep his knees together which kept this foundation kept his butt up. And everything was always about his foundation, and it was always about his posture. He was always working on his gear.”
Like the unique nature of his style, that equipment legacy may never be repeated.
“He didn’t just play the position, he innovated it,” said Kevin Weekes, who played two seasons with Lundqvist. “I don’t think we’ll see many like him that are able to impact the position in a unique way in terms of their style of play, their style of gear, the functionality of their gear, and the innovation that he brings to the table in all of those ways. It’s so rare.”
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