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Henrik Lundqvist’s Impact Off the Ice Will Be Greatly Missed in New York

Lundqvist was a hero for the Rangers on the ice, more importantly he was a superhero to many off the ice.

It is hard to picture Henrik Lundqvist wearing the uniform of another NHL team. This isn’t strictly a new thought influenced by current events, but instead one held by a legendary Ranger who took the stage with Lundqvist and ESPN broadcaster and former SUNY Oswego Lakers goaltender Linda Cohn at a speaking event at the 92nd Street Y in February of 2015. The event originally was billed as “three generations of goaltending” that included Lundqvist, Mike Richter, and Eddie Giacomin, but Giacomin was unable to attend the makeup date after the original event was postponed due to a snow storm.

In preparation of writing this story, I went back and watched the recording of the event I attended, and there was a particular section that I had forgotten about. The subject of playing in New York came up, and Richter had a lot of things to say in context of what it takes to be a goaltender, and the preparation and discipline involved. He also had this line which is especially poignant now that Lundqvist has been bought out.

Richter said, “To play anywhere in the NHL is a privilege and an amazing thing, but to play in New York, I mean it’s an amazing international city, ya know, can you imagine Henrik Lundqvist playing — well I don’t want to get myself in trouble — but playing anywhere else?” The question drew laughter from Lundqvist, Cohn, and the crowd of which I was part of, and it was for good reason.

Lundqvist was in top form, fresh off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, and in the middle of what would ultimately be a President’s Trophy winning season. At that point in time it would have been crazy to envision a world in which he wasn’t playing for the Rangers, as he was well on his way to solidifying his status as an all-time great in addition to strengthening his case as a franchise legend. Simply stated, Lundqvist’s attendance, and interaction with fans during this winter meet and greet was a small microcosm of who he was as a person off the ice, and a part of Lundqvist that isn’t celebrated enough.

This event was held on February 3rd, and that date alone should stand out, but I understand there may be some fans who weren’t following the team then. On January 31, 2015, Lundqvist took a puck to the throat after his mask lifted up and the neck protector rose up leaving his neck exposed.

It was an immensely scary moment, especially seeing him flail his leg pads once he hit the ice. Many assumed the worst. He was visibly shaken up, but after a delay he remained in the game, ultimately stopping 30 of 31 shots in a 4-1 win. He was back in goal for the Rangers’ next game on the 2nd — a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers — attended the speaking event on the 3rd, but sat on the bench vs. the Boston Bruins on the 4th.

On February 6th it was announced Lundqvist would miss at least three weeks with a sprained blood vessel in his neck that was detected in a scan. At the time, from, he said, “Sleeping that night my only problem was a really stiff neck, but after the game on Monday that’s when I had pretty tough headaches and that’s when I talked to the doctors and we did some more checkups.” Despite everything going on, he still showed up on stage at the 92nd Street Y, but at no point did he ever look or sound off. He even tried to make light of the situation when asked saying, “Let’s put it this way, playing goalie is tough, playing it blindfolded is even tougher.” He went on the describe having to recollect himself, and after a couple of minutes he started to feel better, even describing the remainder of the game as fun to play because of all the chances he faced. It was a classic example of Hank being Hank. He was sociable, engaging, jovial, and made sure everyone in the room felt special.

After the talk, there was an opportunity to meet both Richter and Lundqvist, and there was a policy in place not to ask for autographs after each party posed for their picture with , because every group received a commemorative triple-signed by Giacomin, Lundqvist and Richter (currently hanging in my Dad’s office at home). But Lundqvist signed for everyone (mostly little kids) that asked him. Richter did the same, and both even took time to pose for some extra pictures.

It goes without saying that the whole situation surrounding Lundqvist’s injury was scary. My goal here is not to lionize athletes playing through injuries. It was downright dangerous for him to play vs. the Panthers, and it would have been easy for him to ask for the event to be rescheduled, which wouldn’t have been out of bounds considering it has previously been postponed. I don’t think there was any risk in him attending, as he only received his official diagnosis the day after, but Lundqvist being Lundqvist he likely wanted to carry on with business as usual. He didn’t want to ruin a special event or let the fans down.

Through and through, that is who Lundqvist was on and off the ice. For 15 years fans could go to a game and know that Lundqvist was going to give the Rangers a chance to win, and there was a good chance he’d put on a show they wouldn’t forget. There certainly were moments over the years where he had a bad game or gave up a bad goal or two, but he was always quick to take the blame and stress the need to be better — even if he wasn’t at fault.

Some fans were even lucky enough over the years to catch him after a game to pose for a picture and a quick autograph. There’s also friends of mine who bumped into Lundqvist while the Rangers were on the road, and each of their experiences was a positive one. I’m sure he had an off day here and there, who doesn’t have them, but overall I’ve yet to come across someone who had a bad experience with Hank.

While it is important to recognize what Lundqvist’s play meant to the fans and the franchise, I think it is even more important that we recognize his philanthropy off the ice, and the impact he had in people’s lives. Whether it be his work with the Garden of Dreams, his own foundation, and everything else that occurred during his time in New York.

In 2009, Lundqvist became the new spokesman of the Garden of Dreams Foundation. According to the official website, the Garden of Dreams Foundation:

“provides young people in our communities with life-changing access to educational and skills opportunities; mentoring programs, and memorable experiences that enhance their lives, help shape their futures and create lasting joy. The Foundation focuses on young people facing illness or financial challenges, as well as children of uniformed personnel who have been lost or injured while serving our communities.”

Anyone who has watched enough games on MSG will be familiar with the organization and what it does. In addition to some of the things I will get into below, the Garden of Dreams annually hosts Thanksgiving Dinner serving 250 children and families from New York City’s Department of Homeless Services. They do a lot of work around Christmas time whether it be raising money, providing meals, or collecting gifts to distribute to those who otherwise wouldn’t receive them. They also host a talent show at Radio City Music Hall featuring children from the program that helps raise money, and recently there has been the Garden of Laughs which is a night of comedy that has featured comics like Jerry Seinfeld.

The foundation also awards scholarship money to deserving students in the tri-state area, and recently Lundqvist was involved in the presentation of a scholarship to a girl he met through Make-A-Wish Connecticut in 2009.

When Natalie was five years old, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. Reflecting on this time, Natalie shared, “There are days you don’t want to go through treatment — it’s hard, it’s painful – but it’s so worth it to keep fighting. It’s hard to see it when you’re that young, but now that I’ve gotten through the treatment I can see it all fell into place the way that it did.” Then, just a few years later in 2009, Natalie was connected with Garden of Dreams and was given an opportunity to attend a skating party with the New York Rangers, which included Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was during this skating party that Natalie developed a love for the game of hockey and decided to hang up her figure skates to become a hockey player.

The story goes on to say:

Shortly after meeting Henrik Lundqvist at the skating party, Natalie was featured in a Garden of Dreams PSA with her new Rangers friend. In 2010, Natalie dropped the puck at a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. In 2015, Natalie participated in the Rangers season-end tradition “Blue Shirts Off Our Back,” attended Rangers Youth Hockey Camp, and received the courage award at the Henrik Lundqvist Pro Camp.

Here’s Henrik breaking the news to Natalie in a video message.

This is just one example, and here are a few other equally heartwarming interactions that Lundqvist had with fans through the Garden of Dreams Foundation.

There are so many moments, those that occurred in plain view like in the videos above and gestures of kindness that occurred in private which made an immeasurable impact. Lundqvist did this selfless work for 11 years, and in 2014 he started a foundation of his own with his wife Therese to impact the lives of even more people.

Via the Sport of Philanthropy:

Founded by the longtime New York Rangers goalie and his wife Therese, the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation (HLF) serves not only the New York City community but also families and organizations in Sweden and the Dominican Republic. A multifaceted, international philanthropic initiative with an unrestricted mission statement, the foundation seeks to contribute and create change wherever there is a need.

“I think when you are young, you focus on your career and what your next step will be. Then you spread your views a little to see what you can do with your role as an athlete to do good.” Lundqvist states. His efforts are far from futile — in just the first two years of the foundation, HLF donated $270,000 to those in need.

Lundqvist is especially proud of his Young Ambassadors Program and its success in helping young philanthropists make a difference in their own communities. Henrik and Therese developed the program with a strong belief that young people can make an immense impact on the world. “You begin to realize how you can make a difference in connecting people and try to inspire them to do good things,” Lundqvist says.

His foundation stepped up big time this past March at the beginning of the pandemic by making a $100,000 donation to the Food Bank of New York City, which was done at a time in which schools were starting to be closed which for some children was a primary source of food.

This donation inspired members of Lundqvist’s Youth Ambassadors to raise money for the food bank as well, which was very inspiring to see. If you visit the HLF website, there are tons of stories and blog postings highlighting the work done by Youth Ambassadors, as well as a history of projects Lundqvist has been involved in.

Lundqvist also spoke with Blueshirt Banter back in September of 2019 talking about the importance of giving back, highlighting a few things the foundation was working on, and had done in the past.

“Early on when we were starting the foundation, we looked at different organizations that we really liked,” Lundqvist shared with Blueshirt Banter. “We really like the work that Presbyterian [Children’s Hospital] does and the Ronald McDonald House is an organization that has been very close to me for years. I was 17 or 18 the first time I went to one of their houses in Sweden.

“When we find an organization that we want to help, we stay true to them and do what we can to help,” he continued. “There are different projects every year. With Ronald McDonald, for example, we’re paying for new homes that they’re building in Göteborg (Gothenburg) and other areas in Sweden. We also have projects with Presbyterian as well, so it’s not like we’re putting everything into one basket.”

Additionally, Lundqvist routinely visited hospitals both in New York and Sweden, and did his best to cheer up those who needed their spirts lifted.

It was these small acts of kindness that Lundqvist did routinely, and it explains why he was so loved by the fans and the city. The King certainly understood the position of influence he had as the face of the franchise and the impact he could have, and he conveyed that in his conversation with Blueshirt Banter last September:

“I think it’s important to at least reflect, as a person, on where you are when you come here,” “You get to play a game for a living and you get to play at Madison Square Garden. We’re all very blessed and very lucky to be able to do this.

“The Rangers give us every tool we need to succeed when it comes to training and preparing for games. It’s a good life. There’s a lot of pressure, so you need to focus a lot on your game and that takes a lot of energy and effort, but it’s good to take a step back when you can and realize where you are. When you do that, I think you realize the good you can do with the position you’re in.”

No one knows what Lundqvist will do next, and starting Friday he will be free to join a new team. Shayna did a great job outlining the numbers of Lundqvist’s career and how he still has some good hockey left in him.

But fans should know that when he does end up in a new market, they will be getting one hell of a human being as well. This is not to say that New York City won’t always be a home for Hank, but the day-to-day interactions he had won’t be like they were while he’s still an active player. Lundqvist was often referred to as a superhero, and at times it was quick hand to describe the dashingly handsome masked man who had an affinity for flashy sports cars and the finer things in life.

But I think that superhero is apropos in this context. It is often said that you need to be careful about meeting your heroes, and in general you need to be careful on who you deify and bestow these titles on. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that there have always been heroes in our communities, but until now they weren’t fully appreciated, and going forward we need to make sure they get the support and recognition they deserve.

That withstanding, in the case of Lundqvist though, I think it fits because he was someone who genuinely cared, someone who looked to help others, and looked to make a difference as best as he could. It was something that developed over the course of his tenure in New York, and he was able to set a great example so that others can pickup where he left off, and fill the void his departure creates.

Joe used a Batman quote in his reflection on Hank, which fit well, but I am kind of mad because I think people will think I’m ripping him off now. But I don’t really care, so here it goes.

This quote is used more than once in Batman Begins, a variation of it first used by Rachel Dawes, and the second use of it by Batman makes her realize that he’s Bruce.

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

In his full gear, Henrik Lundqvist was a superhero in Gotham who brought tremendous joy to so many people. Outside of the uniform it would have been easy for him to skate by life just being a famous athlete with dashing good looks doing the absolute minimum. But for Lundqvist, he was defined by his incredible work ethic, his sense of purpose, and put himself into everything he did. Whether it was a talk at the 92nd Y, a hospital visit on Christmas Day, a Garden of Dreams fundraiser, and so on.

Every single day, he was Henrik Lundqvist, but never got caught up in that. So while it is sad to see Henrik Lundqvist the hockey player go, I am going to miss Henrik Lundqvist the person a little more.

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