Commentary

The King is not ready to abdicate

After a long spring and a busy summer, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is fired up

Updated: August 14, 2014, 11:00 PM ET
By Risto Pakarinen | Special to ESPN.com

Henrik LundqvistRisto PakarinenHenrik Lundqvist spent part of his summer teaching the little Lundqvists of the future.

GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- You will hear New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist before you see him.

Or, rather, you will hear the roar of his black Maserati as it winds through the streets of this west coast city.

As a father of a 2-year-old daughter, he also has other cars, but there are no baby seats in the Maserati, so when he's driving solo, it's the Maserati with the matte finish that rolls out of the garage.

After the longest season in his career, Lundqvist took time off to recharge his batteries, but in the first week of August he was back on the ice, skating with local players in the Frolunda Indians practice facility, Frolundaborg, on the south side of town.

He arrives in the Maserati, stops at the parking lot meter, feeds it with a few kronor, grabs his ticket and parks his car around the corner, closer to the entrance. His famous hair is tucked under a baseball cap adorned with his own logo that combines his No. 30 with a crown. The same logo is on the dark blue jacket he's wearing.

It's a nice summer day, and in his jacket and shorts, he sort of looks like his good friend John McEnroe, minus the headband. He came to the rink from the tennis courts, which might explain the look.

"I've played a lot of tennis this summer," he says in Swedish. "These days I don't want to spend hours at the gym, and I find tennis to be a great exercise for me. You need quick feet, there are lots of turns and twists, back and forth, just like on the ice."

Lundqvist parks his car and walks into the arena. One of the doors is used for deliveries, and the Swedish sign next to the doors says "Gods."

Lundqvist, known as King Henrik, does not enter through that door.

"I've never been completely at ease with being called 'the King,'" he says. "It was nice in the beginning, but I never imagined it'd stick and get used as much as it has. Having said that, I do understand that it's a fun story, Henry being a royal name and all.

"And I suppose it could've been worse," he adds with a laugh.

Lundqvist walks through a corridor that takes him past a large photo of him and teammates celebrating Frolunda's championship in 2005, his last season in Gothenburg before joining the Rangers.

He changes and walks to the gym to stretch and get his weary body ready for the offseason's third skate.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Risto PakarinenHenrik Lundqvist's last season in Sweden ended in a championship with Frolunda.

"My body's so done," he says. "Even during the season I get rusty if I don't skate for two days, and now it's been a month and a half. This isn't real practice yet, though. I just want to get back into the rhythm of things and get back the feel for stopping pucks.

"I still do the same exercises I did nine years ago, when I entered the league. There's nothing revolutionary in what I do. I'll just try to train smarter."

But at the gym door, he is stopped. The door's locked, and the muscle memory of his fingers can't seem to remember the code that opens the door. Fortunately, another player is leaving the gym and opens the door.

"What is the code?" Lundqvist asks him, and then laughs when he hears the six-digit code.

He looks around, gets a stretching mat and starts to go through his routine. Every once in a while he shakes his bottle with pink nutritional drink and takes a sip out of it, then grimaces and stretches another part of his weary legs.

It's a soft start into a new season, Lundqvist's 10th in the NHL. He's now a veteran, the one with the longest tenure as a Ranger on his team. He's the one people turn to to get a feel for the atmosphere in the locker room.

"Naturally, my role on the team is different now, but I try to not take too much responsibility," he says. "My job is to stop the puck, first and foremost. Of course there are always, on every team, a group of players who take a leadership role.

"I only have one goal, and that's to win. I don't set any personal goals except that I want to play as well as possible, and I know when I'm not there. Being so close last season pushes me forward, and the fact that I know the Rangers fans really want to see us win is stimulating. It really makes me want to win even more."

Ten years in New York leave a mark on a person, and when his new seven-year deal is over, Lundqvist might find it hard to leave New York. He'll always be a New Yorker. But just as surely, he will most likely always return to Avenyn in Gothenburg. And the sea.

The Lundqvists recently bought a house by the sea to have a little base outside the city.

"I love the sea, so we just enjoy life there," he says. "Friends come over, and everything's good. That's what summer is all about: to recharge the batteries and spend time with people I love."

But being a celebrity in a city of 500,000 is different from being an NHLer in New York.

[+] EnlargeHenrik and Joel Lundqvist
Risto PakarinenTime at home means more time for Henrik (left) to hang out with twin brother Joel.

"It gets a little more intense here," he says. "In New York, I can blend in and be a face in the crowd. Hockey's not that huge, so not everybody knows who I am. Over here, not everybody knows me either, but people know hockey players and if I go out, the attention gets to another level than in New York.

"In New York, our social life is more us going out. Over here, it's meeting people at home or at our friends' homes."

Inside the rink and the gym, even with the crown logo on his hat, Lundqvist is just one of the boys -- not King Henrik, not even one of the sexiest men alive, as People magazine wrote. However, the media landscape has changed no matter what side of the world you're on, and with a new seven-year contract worth $59.5 million starting this fall, there are few places where he can escape the attention.

"I understand that the salaries are public information, but it's a little shame that the money enters the picture every time we do something," Lundqvist says. "I certainly didn't expect it to be news that we bought a house here. I do think about things like that more than five years ago, and the media's changed. Anything can become a story."

The upside of the new media landscape for him is that he can reach approximately 381,000 people in seconds, just by sending out a tweet.

"Social media gives me a chance to get my message out, exactly as I want to," he says.

Then again, when his contract expires in 2021, he will have amassed almost $110 million in career earnings. Or, to make it sound even bigger, three quarters of a billion Swedish kronor.

Lundqvist sighs when he hears the bigger figure.

"Yeah. It's a lot of money, even if 60 percent of it never reaches me, what with the taxes and the escrow," he says. "But sure, I'll be fine. I think I still understand the value of money, though, since I haven't got everything overnight, so I've learned to handle it."

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Risto PakarinenThe garb looks familiar to fans of Henrik Lundqvist, but he's miles away from the Garden upon his return to the ice.

Most European NHLers return to their home countries after their careers are over, even though they, like Lundqvist, have lived all or most of their adults lives in North America.

"New York has a whole other gear, compared to our little Sweden. And summers are the best here. We were here during the lockout in 2012, and, well, it was dark and rainy, and not at all as nice," he says and laughs.

Even after a long season, Team Lundqvist -- Henrik, his wife, Therese, and their 2-year old daughter, Charlise -- hits the ground running when they get to Gothenburg.

"The first week, we'll meet everybody, it's dinner after dinner after dinner," he says. "And usually we're the ones going from one place to another. I've been in the U.S. a couple of times for a couple of things [like The ESPYS], but other than that, we're just taking it easy."

There's also the Henrik Lundqvist goalie camp on Ockero island, outside of Gothenburg, and then the Swedish Open tennis tournament in Bastad, a must for Lundqvist.

"I've been there every year since I was seven, in different roles and form," he says and grins.

During the Swedish Open, Bastad becomes the country's jetset hub, with athletes, musicians and businesspeople gathering to network and to party, like most of Sweden's celebrities and party people.

In early August, even if his body's sore, his mind is no longer tired. The Stanley Cup finals disappointment -- the Los Angeles Kings beat the Rangers in five games -- no longer eats him up inside. He says it's not as if he's gotten over it -- "I'll never get over it" -- but he's learned to live with it. There's never been more parity in the NHL, and the margin of error -- or margin of luck -- has never been slimmer.

"Just look at our final series against the Kings," he says. "Three games went into overtime, and we hit the post in each OT. We're talking about millimeters here and the puck would have gone in, instead of out. The difference being there as a winner instead of not, is such a fine line."

He's more experienced, he's his own offseason coach, and he's just come through one of the best and worst seasons of his career. Early last season, he had trouble finding his game, and late last season, he was as good as they get in the Rangers' march to the Cup finals.

"The first two months of last season were the toughest of my career," he says. "Nothing seemed to work. It was also just a sum of many small things, but it was frustrating because I knew I was close, but wasn't yet there.

"Over the years, I've learned to appreciate the journey more."

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Risto PakarinenHenrik Lundqvist is back!

Appreciating the journey is also a way to make the seasons last longer, and stretch out time a little bit. By 2021, his daughter will be a 10-year-old New Yorker. When Henrik was 10, he had moved from Are (population 10,000) to Bastad (14,000), so his sister Gabriella could pursue a tennis career.

Madison Square Garden's capacity is 18,200.

"Kids make you think about life in a different way. I think about what it's like to grow up in New York City, for sure, but a lot of people raise kids there. It's just that I compare it to my own childhood, of course. The atmosphere on the street was a little different," he says and grins.

"But as far as hockey is concerned, my focus is on the upcoming season only. Right now, I'm exactly where I want to be, but staying there will be tough. I don't think people always realize the mental pressure that players feel."

And with that, he gets up, walks back to the dressing room and puts on his hockey gear.

He walks out to the ice, leaves his stick on the bench and skates to one of the nets. He's wearing his Rangers gear, a Rangers practice sweater and a pair of pads so new that there are no black puck marks on the big white areas. On the back of the pads, there's that crown logo, and on the sides, small blue and yellow stripes, for Sweden.

Then he signals that he's ready for the first shot. It's a wrister from the high slot. He makes a save.

It is good to be ... Henrik.

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