Former Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist always was a fascinating person
The cruel irony, of course, is that his heart ultimately betrayed Henrik Lundqvist.
The future Hall of Fame goalie showed nothing but heart during his 15 seasons as the face of the Rangers’ franchise. In an NHL full of uber-competitive athletes, Lundqvist always seemed to be the uber-est on his team.
He signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Washington on Oct. 9 after the Rangers, turning over their net to Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, bought out the final season of his seven-year, $59.5 million deal on Sept. 30.
But Lundqvist, who will turn 39 in March, announced on Thursday via Twitter that he will be unable to play for the Capitals this season — if there is a season — because of a heart condition.
"We have decided that the risk of playing before remedying my condition is too high," he said after "many weeks of tests and conversations with specialists around the country."
"I will spend the coming months figuring out the best course of action."
Lundqvist, true to his nature, made it sound as if he is working to return to the ice. Still, it would not be shocking if this marks the end of his stellar NHL career.
My assignment for Newsday is covering the Islanders, but I was a Rangers beat reporter at two other newspapers for most of 2003-2016, meaning I was around to chronicle the bulk of Lundqvist’s career in New York.
Always a fascinating person to be around, in many ways, Lundqvist is a study in contrasts.
Most of the time, with his impeccably tailored suits and perfectly coifed hair, he looks as if he’s stepped from the pages of GQ. He always seems at ease in front of a camera, whether it’s a postgame interview or a charity event.
Swedish is his first language, but I’ve never seen him stumble in English.
Several years back, I asked him about his public persona and the Henrik Lundqvist brand.
He said all of it was a learned reflex, that as a young athlete, he felt incredibly shy and often still did. He said he had worked extremely hard to seem so at ease.
Lundqvist’s at-ease manner also belied the intense competitiveness that drove him relentlessly. He was not above taking his teammates to task for lax play in front of him, whether it was in a game or at a practice.
He certainly didn’t like being shown up at practice.
One day, Mats Zuccarello, a close friend of Lundqvist’s, celebrated a little too much after scoring against him. Lundqvist angrily took a warning shot across Zuccarello’s bow, in the form of a fired puck, as Zuccarello skated at center ice.
Lundqvist backstopped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2014, and they lost to the Kings in five games. The Rangers lost all three games in Los Angeles in overtime, including double-overtime losses in Games 2 and the deciding Game 5, as Alec Martinez’s goal at 14:43 of the second overtime clinched the second Cup in three years for the Kings.
Lundqvist’s locker was by the entrance to the visitor’s dressing room at Staples Center. As the media entered, he sat at his stall, his goalie pads still on and his head in his hands.
The media conducted other interviews with an eye kept on Lundqvist to see when he would be ready to talk.
It seemed as if he never moved, as frozen in defeat as he was. He finally did talk, of course — he always did — but it was hard not to be affected by his raw emotions that night.
But there seemed to be a million more fun moments with Lundqvist over the years, whether it was talking about hockey or music.
Three, in particular, stand out to me.
The first came the first time I ever saw Lundqvist on the ice, for an informal skate at the Rangers’ practice facility before training camp in September 2005. The seventh-round pick in 2000 came with a glowing scouting report, but not much was known about how he would fare in North America.
I watched as Lundqvist practiced one-on-one with goalie coach Benoit Allaire and I remember thinking — and later saying on an MSG Networks documentary about Lundqvist — that I had not seen a goalie go post-to-post quicker.
After practice, I spoke with Lundqvist for the first time and was struck by his friendliness and his humble outlook about his chances of making the team that season.
The second came after a game in Nashville. The Rangers were staying over that night, which was a rarity, as the team usually chartered to its next destination immediately. I was at a bar enjoying some post-game relaxation with a colleague when Lundqvist and a couple of his teammates wandered in.
I wound up chatting with Lundqvist while a Rangers fan, wearing a Lundqvist No. 30 jersey, stood alongside, back-to-back but oblivious to Lundqvist’s presence. We both got a huge chuckle out of that.
Another time, I stood with Lundqvist’s twin brother, Joel, who had played in the NHL with the Stars, watching a Rangers practice. Joel Lundqvist had us cracking up as he jokingly complained that while his twin brother always wound up on various sexiest and best-looking athlete lists, nobody ever thought of Joel Lundqvist as all that attractive.
So all the best to Henrik Lundqvist and his family. Be healthy.