“King Henrik” returned to his realm Oct. 7 when the New York Rangers took on the Los Angeles Kings at the Ericsson Globe Arena in the opening match of the 2011-2012 National Hockey League season. “The King” is Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who went from seventh-round draft pick in 2000 to living legend after winning a pile of awards in the NHL and leading Sweden to the hockey gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Although it was a happy return at first for Lundqvist, who received a standing ovation from the packed Globe Arena crowd, it wasn’t so happy for the Rangers. The Blueshirts dropped their opener to the Kings 3-2 in overtime, blowing a third-period 2-1 lead. New York took on Anaheim Oct. 8 at the Globe and this time, lost in a shootout.
Although his team lost, the 29-year-old Lundqvist shined, making 56 saves in the games and constantly bringing the crowd to its feet with his play.

“He's a very respected and established athlete and face in Sweden,” said Anders Hedberg, the Rangers' head professional scout in Europe and the first European, along with Ulf Nilsson, to play a true starring role with the Blueshirts when he arrived from Sweden in 1978. “Any reception he receives is no surprise. It's expected. He's been a mainstay with the national team.”
Lundqvist and the Rangers spent a week in Sweden prior to the opener warming up for season. New York played Lundqvist’s former team, Frolunda, in Göteborg Oct. 1, as part of its Swedish preseason and the reception the crowd at the Scandinavium gave the goaltender nearly brought “the King” to tears.


"Now, it's about doing my job"
"It was so different for me to go to Göteborg," Lundqvist said. "Coming here now, I'm so focused on how to get my game going and help my team win, I don't focus on the overall experience like I did last week. Now it's about doing my job."
In Göteborg, though, it was different. It was a return to his roots both as a person and an elite goaltender.
"That club's meant a lot to me since I was 5," said Lundqvist, whose parents Peter and Eva were also on hand. "It was amazing. It was just special in so many ways."
Rangers head coach John Tortorella said the tribute and fan reaction were "fantastic," and that the emotion of the moment was so overwhelming, Lundqvist even had problems getting through his routine to prepare for the game (though of course he got past it, and the Rangers won, 4-2).
The crowning moment came when Lunqvist led the Rangers onto the ice. As the goalie skated out onto the ice, a lone spotlight illuminated him and chants of Hen-rik, Hen-rik rained down on the rink from the more than 12,000 fans in attendance.
"I'll never forget that," said a visibly moved Lundqvist.

Game and family reunion
The game was also a family reunion as Henrik, the goalie, took on his twin brother Joel, who is the Frölunda captain. Joel even claims planting the seeds of his brother’s success.
When the Lundqvist boys were 8 years old, their coach in Järpen, Sweden, opened the first practice by asking for a volunteer to play goalie.
"I knew (Henrik) wanted it so bad," said Joel, a former Dallas Stars forward. "So I took his hand and raised it."
The NHL is certainly happy about that decision. This year marks the fifth straight year the NHL has opened its season in Sweden, although unlike previous years, teams are also playing in Helsinki, Finland and Berlin as part of a season-opening European tour.
League commissioner Gary Bettman said the annual Swedish interlude is as important to hockey as it to the league’s fan in North America and Scandinavia.
"It is our goal to continue to improve the game of hockey, and this means allowing all people the opportunity to enjoy the NHL, regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender, original gender, or sexual preference,” Bettman said in an interview with Sveriges Radio.” This should be of interest to Swedes in particular. The game of hockey is for all people, and we at the NHL believe strongly in diversity.”
Swedes certainly like what they see in the NHL. According to the ticket sales manager at the Globe Arena, tickets for the two Rangers games sold out in just 70 minutes. The Rangers were the only team to play both of its games in Stockholm. The only team that missed a date in Sweden was the Buffalo Sabres, who played in Helsinki and Berlin.

by Chipp Reid