By CINDY ADAMS
One of the most beautiful in People.
October 5, 2006 -- TONIGHT is the New York Rangers' opening game. They play Washing ton. So how do hotshot hockey play ers mark the day? 10:30 practice, 12:30 lunch, 1:30 nap, call time at the Garden 4:30. And how do I know? Because I sat in on practice yesterday.
The practice rink in Tarrytown is Madison Square Garden's size. The differences are, although I brought a sweater and heaters were overhead, I nearly froze to death. Also, there's no raked stadium seating. I sat at ice level. Exactly where the goalie crouches. Exactly where the puck slams into the protective Plexiglas. It's terrifying. The puck travels at 100 mph but, I was told, "This is only 60 percent of the intensity of real play where teams don't like each other."
Right. Okayyyyy then.
A goalie being the most important player, I was introduced to goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He's 24, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, although who could tell with his massive leggings, shields, face mask, body protection and huge gloves. After leading Team Sweden to gold at Torino's Olympics last year, he joined the Rangers and broke the rookie record for wins.
Called King Henrik, this hottest new name at the Rangers, whose follow-up contract will net him multi mega multiple millions, who was featured in People's "100 Most Beautiful" May issue, said: "Yeah, I've gotten hurt a few times. And I get sore. I've had problems with my hips and knees. Ask me in 10 years how my knees are holding up. I sometimes have to ice them.
"In Russia, I had my jaw broken at a practice session. The puck hit one side of my mouth. I couldn't open my mouth. It wasn't totally broken but it was a little bit cracked. I thought I'd lost all my teeth." Smiling broadly, what he flashed were whiter and larger than those 18 mm South Sea pearls Ellen Barkin is unloading at Christie's. Clearly he still had them. "They wanted me to go to a hospital, but I wouldn't. I wanted to wait until I got back to Sweden two days later. It was hard for a while. I could eat only soup.
"A goalie must be flexible. Unfortunately, I am not a very flexible person. I've started doing yoga to help. I use my muscles, but if you look at my body you'll see I'm stiff."
I might've lingered on that part of looking at his body, but King Henrik forged onward. "In hockey you have to be focused. No matter what's going on in your life, you must get it out of your mind when you step onto the ice. I play visual situations out, things that could go wrong, in my head before I play so if something does happen it's already a familiar situation to me and I know what to do because I've already pictured it.
"I go through ritual superstitions. Before I go out I hit the wall with my stick. I hit a certain post with my stick. You need that to feel comfortable. It's stressful out there. And I try to eat the same things. I love junk food. Pizza, hamburgers, Mexican, pasta. I'll eat pasta. I love pasta."
The guy talks easily. No accent. Off-season he lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. His twin plays hockey for whatever's in Dallas. Christmas his parents flew here to see him play at the Garden. He sports a beard and moustache "because I don't like to shave when I'm carrying a lot of equipment. It itches. I shave more in off-season." His Swedish girlfriend Therese lives with him. "I hope she thinks I'm one of the 100 most beautiful," he said and again flashed those Ellen Barkin pearls.
So when did New York Ranger No. 30 begin playing? "I started skating at 4. I could barely walk, let alone skate. My father's a ski instructor. We lived in a ski village, and at 8 I started in hockey.
"So what will I ever do someday when I can no longer play? I'm still young, so that's way off. If I play here 10 years, I should have enough money to maybe open a restaurant." Yeah. Or to buy his entire native country.
The season lasts until mid-April. Playoffs are first week in June. Tonight a family room's open following the game with food since they're all starving because they don't eat beforehand. Trust me, these Rangers eat good. I toured their cafeteria. Lunchtime it was pork chops with gravy, pasta, sweet potatoes, thick pea soup. We are not talking tuna tartare and asparagus spears here. But will he do anything special afterward?
"Maybe go out. I love New York restaurants. I love New York. I only don't love that Wollman ice-skating rink in Central Park. Their skates are terrible. Thick and dull. Ours are like steak knives. Cut yourself, and you'll bleed. Except for those Central Park ice skates, New York's got everything."
Bruins 2, Rangers 1
34 minutes ago