At 37, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist enters his 15th NHL season. He’s still known as one of the most dapper and recognizable players in the league — not to mention a goalie you’d want in net for a Game 7. But last season was hard for Lundqvist. After years of competing for championships, the Rangers entered a rebuild that saw many mainstays traded away. Lundqvist is one of three players remaining from a team that made the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.
But Lundqvist, who has two years remaining on his contract, wanted to stick it out. He refused to waive his no-movement clause and waited out the storm. Things turned quickly. After a splashy summer — in addition to No. 2 draft pick Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers acquired top defenseman Jacob Trouba and signed star right winger Artemi Panarin — the Rangers are relevant again. The team might just be competitive before Lundqvist’s personal window closes.
In an interview with ESPN, Lundqvist opened up about how hard last season was, workload management, his support of the Swedish women’s hockey team, being known as “the shampoo guy” and why he just can’t quit cheeseburgers.
ESPN: A Swedish friend told me that, in Sweden, you’re known just as much as “the shampoo guy” as “the hockey guy.” Is that true?
ESPN: So those commercials must just run all the time?
Lundqvist: They do. It’s been a fun relationship. They let me be part of the creative side. For years, we’ve been having a lot of fun with it. But it happens, people stop and say I’m the shampoo guy.
ESPN: On a scale of 1-10 — one being nobody recognizes you at all, 10 being you are swarmed the second you step outside — how anonymous do you think you can be in public? What is the number when you’re back home in Sweden?
Lundqvist: That’s hard. It all depends on where you are in the city and what time it is. There are definitely moments where it’s a little hectic, but there are also days when it’s very relaxed. So it’s hard. I’m going to say 5.
Lundqvist: Same, but it’s less than Sweden for sure. I’m going to say a 3.
ESPN: That sounds nice.
Lundqvist: It is nice. That’s why I love New York. You blend in pretty good, and you can live a pretty relaxing life. There are definitely moments and days where it’s more intense and there’s more focus, but there are also moments where you feel like you can live a pretty average and normal life. And that mix is great.
ESPN: I’m somewhat familiar with the Swedish women’s hockey team boycott over their federation, and I understand you voiced your support for the women. For anyone who is unaware of what’s going on, could you explain why they’re boycotting?
Lundqvist: They had a list of many things that they feel like needed to improve. One of them was they wanted the federation to cover for lost income. A lot of these women, they have regular jobs, and then when they play for the national team, they lose some income. So what they want is for the federation to cover that. To me, I think that’s something that needs to happen. To play for the national team should be the proudest thing you can do as a hockey player. It’s really hard when you have to sacrifice that much to go and play. At the same time, I understand the federation doesn’t have a lot of money. But I’m happy that they’re starting this conversation because maybe they can just look at the budget and see how they prioritize money and see if they can move things around to make sure they can help women feel really good about going to these tournaments and playing for Team Sweden. And not feeling like they’re putting themselves in a tough spot.
ESPN: Why did you feel it was important to speak out on it?
Lundqvist: Well, to be honest, I was walking off practice and a reporter came up to me and asked about it. I had been reading a little bit about what was going on. I just [thought about how] I feel when it comes to playing for my country, and how proud you are when you go there. It has nothing to do with making money or fame or fortune. It’s about that proud feeling, representing your country, your people. I just want to make sure they don’t end up in a tough spot by not getting covered the right way. That’s what I felt. I really just tried to understand it from my point of view, then I understand we have very different circumstances when it comes to women’s hockey players and men’s hockey players. So sometimes it’s hard to really understand their situation. I do know the feeling of playing for my country — how it feels and how it should feel.
ESPN: At the end of last season, you told reporters it was a “draining season” for you. Was that more mental or physical?
Lundqvist: That was probably one of the toughest seasons I had played mentally. To go through what we went through [with] the rebuild. First half I felt really good, super excited. I played at a level I felt like I was making a difference. The second half was a lot tougher. There were a lot of things going on, a lot of guys left. Obviously, we were in a position where we were looking to the future, to the draft. It was a tough couple months there. But you learn a lot about yourself and how you react to certain things. That also makes me feel really excited about now, and what happened this summer with the draft and the signings we made and free agency. I feel like the Rangers took a couple big steps in the right direction.
Lundqvist: No, I don’t have any regrets. It was harder than I expected it to be, to go through this whole process. If you count the four or five years in Sweden to last year, which was 14 years [in the NHL], so 18 or 19 years where the focus has been to win and to be in the mix. And suddenly it’s about improving and the future, and just your whole mindset and the feeling you have changes. It was a new experience. I had never experienced that before. You learn from it. In the end, I play this game to win games. You want to win as much as possible, that’s why I’m super excited to go into camp because I feel like we’ve made some really strong additions here. I don’t exactly know where we will stand or how good we will be, but I feel like we are moving in the right direction, and that alone is exciting.
ESPN: Artemi Panarin was the big splash. He’s the guy everybody wanted, and you guys landed him. What was your reaction when he signed?
Lundqvist: It was a good feeling for sure. The fact that he picked us, the fact that he wants to come here and be a big part of the Rangers. I think he’ll be a great fit. I had an opportunity to skate with him now for a week or so. Super skilled guy. Very good hockey player. I haven’t really gotten to know him yet, just a little bit, but seems like a great guy. I think that’s important when you’re such a big piece of the team and to help all the young guys, too. We have a few Russian players on the team. I think he’ll play a big part off the ice as well.
Lundqvist: Yeah, but that was also early in my career. I think over the last few years you have seen a change. More and more teams play the starting goalie a little less. I think it makes sense. It’s more intense now, there’s more shots, more scoring chances, it takes a toll obviously. I think there’s a lot of games now, as a goalie, if you play good, you’re probably not going to win. You need to play great to win games. For you to be on that level almost every night, that’s obviously the biggest challenge. You have more options now. There are more goalies that can get the job done I think. It used to be a clear-cut No. 1, this guy would play close to 70 games. But you definitely see a change in that. It makes sense when you look at how intense the game is and also how many good goalies are out there.
Lundqvist: Every year I feel like there’s guys around you that, they want to play, they want to get more games in. I still — no matter who is next to me — my focus [is] on my game and how can I improve and be the best I can be. At the end, it’s up to the coach when I play and how many games I play. Every year, it doesn’t matter who you are teaming up with, you become a team within the team. It’s you, the other goalie and the goalie coach. Me and Georgie work really well together and push each other. We have [Benoit Allaire] the goalie coach who pushes us so I feel good about that.
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ESPN: What’s your cheat meal?
Lundqvist: I’m a big cheeseburger guy. I eat a lot of cheeseburgers. I don’t see that as a cheat meal, though, because I rely on it. It’s too good not to eat it. I honestly don’t see it as a cheat thing, maybe some people do, but I don’t.
ESPN: What’s an impulse purchase you’ve made in the last year?
Lundqvist: I bought a jacket when I went to London this summer. Didn’t plan on doing on it, but it just happened. Nothing special, but I was there for a few days, walked around, and it caught my eye.
ESPN: What player in the league are you most in awe of?
Lundqvist: I think [Connor] McDavid is such a great player. He’s fun to watch with his skill. He’s impressed me since he entered the league. He’s done great work.