By Steve Keating
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Swede Nicklas Lidstrom became the first European to captain a Stanley Cup champion and as he retired from the NHL on Thursday a handful of compatriots hoping to get their hands on the same trophy paid him tribute.
Players took a break from practise for Saturday's Game Two of the Stanley Cup final between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings to talk about Lidstrom, who is widely regarded as one of the best defenseman of all time.
"Two decades is a long time playing in the best league in the world. ... In my eyes, he's the best Swedish player we've had over here," said Henrik Tallinder, a Swedish defenseman playing for the Devils.
"I mean, who doesn't look up to him? He's an icon. Everybody wants to be like him, play like him. Offensively, defensively, you name it, he does it all.
"Just watching him play, you would describe it like a symphony."
A role model for a generation of Swedish players, Lidstrom spent his entire 20-year National Hockey League (NHL) career in a Detroit uniform, claiming the Norris Trophy as top defenseman seven times, 12 All-Star honors and four Stanley Cups, the last in 2008 as team captain.
For Devils backup goalie Johan Hedberg, Lidstrom was an inspiration and a team mate.
"You could say it's a sad day for hockey," said Hedberg. "He is probably one of the, if not the, best Swedish player to ever play the game.
"He's been a great role model for every Swede growing up, myself included. I had an honor to play with him a few times on the national team.
"If there's anyone that people should want to model themselves after, it would be him."
Praise for Lidstrom was not limited to the Swedish contingent still playing for the Cup.
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, said he was all too familiar of Lidstrom's abilities having had to prepare his teams to play against the defenseman who he said had the rare ability to take control of game.
"Everybody talks about the changes to the game, the rule changes, all that but in some ways it's all B.S.," explained Sutter. "The top players still remained the top players."
Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who handed Lidstrom the Stanley Cup in 2008, praised the Swede for not only being one of the game's all-time greats but for being a superb role model and human being as well.
"Nick Lidstrom's trademarks were his respect for hockey, his humanity and his commitment to his craft -- as well as his devotion to the highest standards of success," said Bettman.
"For so many seasons, Nick gave the very best to his team, his city and his League; as he moves on to the next stage of his life, we wish the very same for him and his family."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)