When the National Hockey League announced the inevitable Thursday and an 82-game portion of the regular season was cancelled, the game’s most valuable goaltender wrote a heartbreaking tweet to his followers. Within a couple hours his call to action was retweeted more than 2,000 times, his frustration scraping at the crease of NHL fans’ feeds:
Despite being born in Are, Sweden, and despite having 144 Swedish Elite League games under his belt (and a crazy .199 GAA and 21 shoutouts over there) before joining the New York Rangers after the 2004-5 lockout, and despite the SEL’s doors being re-swung open to locked-out NHLers, Henrik Lundqvist is not one of the 116 or so NHLers who has packed his bags and peaced out to Europe – yet.
He has remained in New York City, being a new dad to baby Charlise and attending awards galas and jamming with tennis great John McEnroe and practising.
Which makes Lundqvist’s earlier tweet, the one he sent before the league’s grim announcement, even more saddening:
Practice this morning was not my best, thats for sure..The save percentage was far from where it should be. I miss the intensity..
“Practice?” you say in your best Allen Iverson incredulous voice. “We talkin’ ’bout practice?”
Yes, we are.
For it was at the NHL Awards in June, as Lundqvist stood at a podium beside a freshly buffed Vezina Trophy, overcome by the weight of his new prize, that he chose to speak about the importance of practice.
“I was excited to come to practice all the time, probably because I had more energy,” Lundqvist said that night in Las Vegas.
The goaltender played “only” 62 games in 2011-12, the fewest since he had played 53 in his 2005-06 rookie year. He attributed those days off to helping him feel fresher for the 20 playoff games he would need to start. But more interesting, Lundqvist said the games backup Martin Biron subbed in allowed him to push himself that much harder in practice and fueled his motivation for his own next start.
“It comes down to, mentally, how hard are you willing to work for it? And working with (Rangers goaltending coach) Benoit Allaire helps me a lot. Coming to practise is fun, and I want to improve all the time,” Lundqvist said. “A lot of guys can play at this level, but to stay up there is the toughest part.”
Lundqvist thrives on hard work and perfecting his position. On Thursday the best goalie in the NHLPA asked not just Gary Bettman but his own union boss, Donald Fehr, to work at their craft, too.