The Man Behind The Mask: For Hockey Star Henrik Lundqvist, Life Just Keeps Getting Better

November 26th, 2012

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of DOWNTOWN Magazine.

By Matt Essert. Photos by Eddie Collins.

During a recent photo shoot in Downtown’s financial district, I asked New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist how he felt about being named one of People’s World’s 100 Most Beautiful People back in April 2006.

“I was just laughing,” Lundqvist chuckles, without missing a beat. “I don’t think I deserve to be on that list.”

What about his brother Joel Lundqvist, Henrik’s identical twin and fellow hockey player? If they’re identical, shouldn’t he be on that list, too?

“[Joel] was laughing, too,” Lundqvist says. “But you can’t take things like that too seriously. I guess I was at the right place at the right time and someone was like, ‘Oh, let’s pick this guy.’”

Over the rest of the afternoon, as we speak between camera clicks and several clothing changes in preparation for the fashion shoot, I learn that timing has been an important part of the superstar goalie’s life. I’m also taken aback by how well he’s handling the fashion-shoot process. Many celebrities, let alone athletes, might not be totally comfortable changing clothes, posing for photos and fielding questions at the same time, but Lundqvist couldn’t seem more at ease.

“I’m kind of used to media by now. I’ve had a Swedish TV crew following me around for the past two days,” he says. “The first couple interviews I did when I was 18, I was a little nervous. But after doing it for 10 years, you learn by experience and how to handle things around you and the media. But I feel pretty comfortable with media.”

Lundqvist, aka Lundy, aka The King, aka King Henrik, is widely considered one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League. In fact, he had such a spectacular 2011-2012 season that he was awarded the 2012 Vezina Trophy, which is given to the goaltender who is “adjudged to be the best at this position.” His other accolades include 43 career NHL shutouts, New York Rangers’ team MVP for six years straight, an array of Swedish league records and accolades, an Olympic gold medal from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and the honor of being the first NHL goalie to win at least 30 games in each of his first seven seasons. It’s an impressive résumé, to say the least. But of course, he didn’t start at the top—he worked his way there from a childhood in a small town in Sweden.

Henrik Lundqvist, 30, was born in Åre, Jämtland, Sweden, a small ski resort town with just under 1,500 people, sitting roughly eight hours northwest of Stockholm. Most of the town’s residents were ski enthusiasts, including Lundqvist’s father, a ski instructor. But when Lundqvist noticed a few of his teachers playing hockey, he was quickly captivated by the sport, and at age four he took an intense liking to hockey and practiced constantly with his brother.

“We loved the competing,” Lundqvist says. “I think that’s one of the most important things when you’re after it—to have that drive. You want to get better, you want to win.”

Lundqvist’s and his brother’s natural competitive drives and spirits led them to constantly practice and improve, and at age 11, the family moved farther south so the boys could play in a more competitive league that was known for developing young players. By the time he was 14, Lundqvist began to focus solely on hockey and stopped spending time on other sports. That’s when he knew he might be onto something.

“That was probably when I really put in time and energy in this and realized that I have a chance to do something … maybe not reach [the NHL] but maybe still reach the league of Sweden,” he recalls.

By 2000, at age 18, Lundqvist was playing well enough to turn pro and join the Frölunda Hockey Club, a Swedish Elite League team based in Gothenburg. Although the New York Rangers selected Lundqvist 205th overall in the NHL draft, he stayed in Sweden to continue working on his game and grow as a player. But this wasn’t before Lundqvist came to New York and got a taste of where he would soon be playing.

“I was 18 [and] was just drafted by the Rangers, and I watched the game, and [they] got booed off the ice,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to play here in a few years?’”

After a promising but admittedly shaky start, he was called to join the Swedish national under-20 team for the 2001 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. In that tournament, he played exceptionally well and led his team to a fourth-place finish.

“It’s a big deal to represent your country,” he says. “Even though it was junior level, you’re still really excited about it … and to compete against the best players in the world in your age is pretty cool. That tournament was kind of a turning point for me.”

Lundqvist found his form in that tournament, and soon after, from 2003 to 2005, he was named the best goalie in Sweden and won two national championships. His last year was especially important because he competed against NHL players. In 2004-2005, the NHL and its players couldn’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement and the season was locked out, giving Lundqvist the perfect opportunity to test himself.

“There were probably 10 or 11 NHL goalies [playing with us]. So for me, mentally, to compete against them was a big deal.”

That next season brought Lundqvist to New York City to join the Rangers, and although he was understandably nervous, he was the fortuitous recipient of good timing and played well with five years of solid experience in Sweden’s senior leagues under his belt.

“A lot of times, to have success, it’s about timing,” he says. “Even though you feel like you can play at this level, you need some time. It’s hard to come in if [the team] already has two guys who they believe in—it’s kind of tough to get a spot. So I absolutely came at the right time.”

Lundqvist came into the NHL at the perfect time—the league was rebuilding and the Rangers organization was in transition. With several rule changes in the post-lockout NHL, Lundqvist’s game fit perfectly into the new style of play, and he immediately became a top NHL goalie and a New York fan favorite—neither of which, especially the latter, is an easy feat.

“As a goalie you always get a lot of attention because your position has a lot of pressure. But I must say, I was really shocked—in a good way—by how much [the fans] supported me my first year.”

Since then, Lundqvist has been a key part of one of the league’s most exciting and dynamic teams, most recently helping them finish with the best win/loss record in the Eastern Conference and reach the conference finals in the 2012 postseason.

Like any professional athlete (especially the successful ones), Lundqvist has a few superstitions, or quirks, that he lives by. For one, he eats the same thing before every game—“Oh yeah, always spaghetti and meat sauce. Every game day. It doesn’t matter where we go; we always have the same food.” He also puts on his pads the exact same way for each game—“I’ve been doing that for 15 years. It’s just comfortable.” He is known to be exceptionally quiet before a game: “The guys know me; they don’t really approach me. They just let me do my thing,” but he loves to pump himself up to a few tunes before the puck drops: “It’s been the same playlist probably [for] nine years. Some old Blink 182—punk rock, a little angry.”

As a player, Lundqvist is constantly pushing himself and striving to improve his play; he thinks that as soon as you’ve reached “that day when you feel like you can’t get any better, it’s time to quit.” He is personally motivated to improve, but also credits his new hometown, organization and fans for pushing him to play his best.

“You want to win, not only for yourself, but for [the fans]. Rangers’ fans have been fans for so long … that’s what makes it special. When you play for an organization where fans really care and follow the team and get so happy when we do well, it’s exciting as a player.”

New York inspires Lundqvist as a player, but also allows him the perfect balance between competition and life.

“What I love about New York is that it’s a big stage and you play for a team that a lot of people care for. But at the same time you can just disappear. You can disappear in the city and live a pretty normal life and people don’t really bother you and that’s great. I love that mix.”

Unlike Sweden, where Lundqvist feels like he’s constantly spotted by fans, New York offers him a certain level of anonymity when he wants it and he capitalizes on this, and the city itself, to enjoy life off the ice.

“[I love] the opportunities you have here that you don’t have anywhere else. It’s good if you can get away from the game a little bit. We spend so much time focusing on hockey that when you have time to do something else, focus on something else, it’s refreshing.”

One of the ways Lundqvist blends in (while still, in many ways, standing out) is with an impeccable sense of style and dress. In 2004 he was named “Best Dressed” in Sweden, and in 2008 Page Six Magazine named him in its “Top 25 Best Dressed.” His style, if he had to describe it, would be “well dressed with an edge.” And although he’ll often opt for a simple coat or a great pair of jeans and a shirt, Lundqvist is often seen in one of his perfectly tailored suits. Needless to say, in a sport that was once characterized by players with missing teeth and torn sweaters, Lundqvist has certainly stepped his style up a notch.

“It doesn’t matter what brand I buy,” he says of his suits. “Usually I get them to my tailor to take it in and make it so it fits and looks good. I think a lot of guys just feel comfortable when they wear something that’s comfortable. For a lot of guys it’s more about being comfortable, loose and relaxed.”

He finds comfort in slim-cut suits, a look that is just the norm back in Sweden. Lundqvist doesn’t necessarily think that his style is trendy—it’s just by chance that it’s catching on stateside. Blame it on his nationality, or credit his natural instincts. Either way, he’s turning heads with his stylish ways.

“New York is often the perfect place to come when you like clothes and fashion. I enjoy fashion and going to a few shows where I can get some inspiration but I haven’t really changed my style much over the past six years.”

Aside from dressing to the nines, Lundqvist has been known to jam on the guitar in a fairly kick-ass band with former tennis superstar John McEnroe and Jay Weinberg (son of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg) and play some charity benefits. Lundqvist is also a co-owner of TriBeCa restaurant Tiny’s with former Rangers teammate Sean Avery and restaurateur Matt Abramcyk.

“The more time you spend in New York, I think you want more reasons to go back—more than just hockey. So owning a restaurant, or doing charity work, or whatever it might be, it’s just fun to have connections.”

In his spare time, Lundqvist is heavily involved in charity, often lending himself and his celebrity to the Garden of Dreams Foundation, which mostly works with Madison Square Garden and its tenants to host charitable events and grant wishes to sick children. Lundqvist says that just a couple of years after entering the NHL, he was looking to start some sort of charitable foundation, but was so impressed by the Garden of Dreams that he readily welcomed its offer to become one of the foundation’s spokesperson. Now, the Garden of Dreams foundation organizes almost anything for Lundqvist, from playing benefit concerts or making appearances to selling equipment or spending time with kids.

Additionally, Lundqvist recently helped design and launch the Crown Collection, a line of clothing (mostly T-shirts and hats for now) featuring his newly iconic #30 crown that is sold to help raise proceeds to benefit the Garden of Dreams foundation. This opportunity, and all of his charity work, was something Lundqvist jumped at, as he is very interested in helping make a difference.

“[This type of charity work] makes you understand how lucky you are to do what you do and just be healthy,” he says. “If I can just show up and that makes that person have a great time and forget about the tough times and struggles he goes through, that’s inspiring as a player. They don’t need much. You can touch people in different ways. Not only the way you play, but just show up and try to be a good person.”

Along with dedicating more time working with Garden of Dreams, Lundqvist was preparing to welcome his “second” child into his family—the first being his beautiful Doberman Pinscher, Nova.  In mid-July, @HLundqvist30 announced the arrival of his new daughter by tweeting: “Welcome to the world Charlise Lundqvist! Our baby girl was born 8.33PM, July 10th 2012 [sic]. Everyone is doing great. Amazing!!!”

A few weeks before his daughter’s birth, during our interview, Lundqvist seemed both extremely excited and somewhat anxious about the arrival of his daughter with his wife, Therese Andersson.

“It’s a big step. It will definitely change my life in a big way,” he says. “My priorities might change, but I think we’re both really excited about it and to see how we can handle everything. We have a lot of friends who have kids now, so I’ve been watching them and how they do it. We try to pick up things, good and bad.”

And that, in a certain way, seems to be Lundqvist’s modus operandi. With a lot of hard work and an unrelenting drive and competitive spirit, Lundqvist has achieved great success by having a relentless drive to succeed and win and by capitalizing on his opportunities to the best of his abilities.

Whether it’s as a three-time NHL All Star, an Olympic gold medalist, a Swedish Elite League or NHL record holder, a New Yorker, a man of style, a philanthropist or a dad, Henrik loves to be the best.

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3 Responses to “The Man Behind The Mask: For Hockey Star Henrik Lundqvist, Life Just Keeps Getting Better”

  1. Kat Daniels Says:

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  3. Mike Says:

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