Lundqvist has lasting legacy with Sweden-born goalies

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It’s as clear as the image of a younger Lundqvist making a save that graces the cover of the Swedish goaltending manual, or in the photos of him used as backgrounds on computers and phones of younger goalies who dreamed of emulating him.

“It’s hard to put into words of how important he has been the last 15 years for the Swedish goalie community,” said Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark, one of those younger goalies who idolized Lundqvist. “I mean, he’s a Vezina Trophy winner, five-time NHL All-Star, Olympic [champion].”

Lundqvist won the first of his two Swedish Hockey League championships with Frolunda when Ullmark was 9 years old. Three years later, Lundqvist moved to the NHL with the New York Rangers for the 2005-06 NHL season and was the No. 1 goalie when Sweden won the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

In 2012, Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy, voted the best goalie in the NHL during the regular season. Thirteen days later, Ullmark was selected in the sixth round (No. 163) of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres; he is one of 20 Sweden-born goalies who have played in the NHL since the 2010-11 season, each impacted in some way by Lundqvist.

“He was an idol to many Swedish goalies when I was growing up,” Ullmark said.

That worship won’t end after the Rangers bought out the final season of the seven-year contract Lundqvist signed with New York on Dec. 4, 2013, on Wednesday.

It’s unclear what’s next for the 38-year-old with the NHL free agency period beginning Oct. 9. As an unrestricted free agent, Lundqvist could be in demand. Or perhaps he could return to Sweden to finish his career. Whatever he decides won’t change the impact he has had in his home country.

Just as the Rangers celebrated a remarkable 15-season run that ended with him as their all-time leader in wins (459, sixth in NHL history), shutouts (64, 16th), games (887, eighth), starts (871, ninth), saves (23,509, seventh), time on ice (51,816:19, ninth) and points by a goalie (27, all assists), Lundqvist will continue to be celebrated for everything he did for Sweden.

It’s an equally impressive list that includes the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics, a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, winning the 2017 IIHF World Championship, and a third-place finish at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. But his impact went well beyond medals.

Among those involved in minor hockey in Sweden, there’s no doubt Lundqvist inspired countless kids to become goalies. His impact on the position in Sweden mirrors the success goalies from Quebec had after being inspired by Patrick Roy, in Finland after Miikka Kiprusoff, or in Russia presently, following the examples set by Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup on Monday.

“Role models have always been important, and in Henrik’s case, all I can say is that he has meant the world,” said Thomas Magnusson, who has been the director of goaltending in Sweden since 2005. “[It is] hard to quantify, but we sure wouldn’t have been where we are today hadn’t it been for him. Henrik’s impact on Swedish goaltending in general is huge. I believe the biggest effect has been the inspiration for young boys and girls to try the position.”

Magnusson got to work with Lundqvist several times before 2005 as well, during a brief stint with Frolunda in the SHL, as a consultant with Sweden’s national junior teams in 2001 and 2002, and for the World Cup of Hockey and 2004 IIHF World Championship.

“His success with [the Rangers] brought him to another level both on and off the ice,” Magnusson said. “The way he has carried the team, as well as how he has presented himself outside the rink. A role model goalie-wise in how he has combined strategy by playing deeper in the crease with [a] shorter distance to cover and moving with straight lines on one hand, with a stellar reactive game and world-class compete level on the other.”

Former NHL goalie Eddie Lack may not have started playing because of Lundqvist, but he was certainly inspired by his career, even before Lundqvist arrived with the Rangers.

Lack, who played 144 NHL games during six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils before retiring in March following a second hip surgery, said he used to watch Lundqvist and tried to emulate his style when each was playing in Sweden.

“I was just glued in front of the TV and I always strived to play like him but he was on a level all by himself,” said Lack, who is six years younger than Lundqvist but played with him for Sweden at the 2017 World Championship. “Such an entertainer and such a winner. Swedes are laid back, like, ‘I’m going to do my best if I win or not,’ and he was more like, ‘I am going to win. Whatever it takes, I will win.’ That’s a very un-Swedish mentality, but that’s what was so much fun to watch.”

Lack would like to see Lundqvist’s passion live a little longer in the NHL, preferably on a team with a good chance to win the Stanley Cup so Lundqvist will have another chance to win one of the few trophies that has eluded him.

But whether that happens, there will be no diminishing of the Lundqvist legacy, in the NHL or, especially, in Sweden.

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