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Today in Hockey History: Nicklas Lidstrom Becomes the 1st European-Born Captain To Win the Stanley Cup

June 4, 2008: When the Detroit Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, legendary defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom became the first European-born NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup.

It’s really pretty amazing when you think about it.

Ice hockey is a pretty international sport. Hell, 17 different countries were represented by the NHL players in the 2019-2020 season alone.

Did you know Nathan Walker is Australian?!

And long before Alexander Mogilny defected from the Soviet Union, a Swedish left-winger by the name of Ulf Sterner was the first European hockey player to play in the NHL on January 27, 1965.

Swedish Left Winger Ulf Sterner was the first European to play in the NHL | Today in Hockey History- Nicklas Lidstrom Becomes the 1st European-Born Captain To Win the Stanley Cup
Swedish Left Winger Ulf Sterner was the first European to play in the NHL

Thanks to Ulf Sterner, hundreds of Europeans have since played in the NHL including the explosive goal-scoring machine known as the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure.

And tons of other incredibly skilled Europeans like Jaromir Jagr, Jari Kurri, the Sedin brothers, Sergei Fedorov, Marian Hossa, Alex Ovechkin, Elias Pettersson, Leon Draisaitl, and the lists goes on and on.

But, although European NHL players have long been respected for their skill, few were named captains of their teams.

Actually, it wasn’t until 1997 that a European captained an NHL squad when the Toronto Maple Leafs named Mats Sundin their captain.

We don’t know what’s crazier:

That there wasn’t a European captain in the NHL until 1997.

— or —

That American defenseman Derian Hatcher was the first non-Canadian captain to win a Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.

Regardless, the NHL was long overdue for a Stanley Cup-winning European captain by the time Nicklas Lidstrom was named the captain of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2006 once longstanding captain Steve Yzerman retired.

After winning the 2006 Presidents Trophy, Lidstrom and the Detroit Red Wings entered the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs as the top seed of the Western Conference but left disappointed after falling to the 8th seed Edmonton Oilers in 6 games in the opening round.

2007 saw the Red Wings battle all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks.

But Lidstrom and the Wings wouldn’t be denied in 2008.

After winning their 4th Presidents Trophy in 6 seasons, the Red Wings lost only 4 games through the opening 3 rounds of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Although the Pittsburgh Penguins made the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals interesting by winning games 3 and 5, the skill and experience of the Detroit Red Wings proved too much, ultimately capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup by winning 3-2 in game 6.

It’s hard to believe it took until 2008 for a European player to captain a Stanley Cup-winning team, but it couldn’t be more fitting that it was Nicklas Lidstrom, the 7-time Norris Trophy winner.

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