By Larry Brooks
Two days. That is how long a relatively unknown 18-year-old goaltender from Sweden named Henrik Lundqvist had been sitting in the stands of the Saddledome in Calgary without hearing his name called during the 2000 Entry Draft.
Joel Lundqvist, the goalie’s twin brother, had been selected in the third round by Dallas, the center going 68th overall. All of the other Swedish prospects who had made the trip to the draft already had been chosen.
“You can only imagine what that felt like,” Henrik told The Post on Sunday. “My agent suggested I come over to get a taste of my first North American and NHL experience. There was thinking I would be drafted in the fourth or fifth round, so when it got to the sixth round, I thought maybe coming to Calgary hadn’t been such a great idea.
“I mean, all my buddies had been taken and were kind of looking at me. We were all sitting in the same row. Nobody knew exactly how to act or what to say. It was kind of like, ‘Come on, Hank.’ It was not a great feeling,” The King said. “Then after the fifth round, someone from Dallas said since they’d taken my brother, they were going to take me in the sixth round.”
Twenty-one goaltenders had been selected, including Rick DiPietro first overall by the Islanders. The Rangers had drafted Union College netminder Brandon Snee in the fifth round, 143rd overall. Calgary had taken Brent Krahn with the ninth overall selection. The Stars had selected Dan Ellis 60th overall.
The Stars selected Henrik’s brother, Joel, earlier in the draft, leading to speculation they would take him.
But now, it was coming up on Dallas’ turn at No. 169.
“I was really excited,” Lundqvist said. “I starting moving up to the edge of my seat, thinking I would hear my name. I remember hearing, ‘Dallas selects….’
He heard, “Dallas selects from Poldi Kladno of the Czech League … right wing Ladislav Vlcek.”
“It seemed like such a long time before they said his name,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He remained in his seat.
If Henrik Lundqvist was relatively unknown coming off his second season in nets for his hometown Frolunda junior team, the goaltender was very well known to the Rangers, and specifically to their ace European scout, Crister Rockstrom.
That was the draft that took place approximately three weeks after Glen Sather was hired as general manager. Martin Madden was in place as director of scouting. Assistant GM Don Maloney was in charge of the draft in which the club did not have a first-rounder and chose Filip Novak 64th overall and Dominic Moore 95th.
“It’s a very funny story, it really is, but first allow me to stake my claim to being part of Rangers history as far as having direct impact on bringing Henrik Lundqvist to New York,” Maloney, currently the Phoenix GM, told The Post by phone on Monday before the Blueshirts chartered to LA in advance of Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. “I mean, that’s the way I’d like for people to remember it, but oh, boy…”
Maloney, you should know, was laughing at himself. Loudly.
“Yeah, give me credit,” he said. “I didn’t know Henrik Lundqvist from Joe Smith. My brilliant mind.”
Rockstrom knew. But Madden knew differently.
“Every time Crister would bring up [Lundqvist’s name] to him, Martin shot it down,” an individual at the draft table told The Post. “One round after another.”
A few times, the term “water torture” was used. As in, “Enough, enough … it’s like water torture hearing [Lundqvist’s] name.”
So Maloney now was preparing for Round 7 and what would be the 205th pick in the draft.
“When you get to the late rounds in the draft, most of it is determined by which [scout] at the table has the strongest voice pushing the hardest for his guy,” Maloney said. “I respected Martin, but Crister had such a great track record that naturally I would defer to him.
“We were between the sixth and seventh rounds. I was sitting next to Crister, and I happened to glance over at his book that had all of his rankings of the eligible players going into the draft,” Maloney said. “When guys are selected, you highlight the name.
“So I noticed that the book was open to the page of European goaltenders and that Henrik had been ranked first in that category by Crister going into the draft and was still there,” Maloney said. “I said to him, ‘Is that the top [junior] goalie in Europe?’
“Crister said, ‘Yeah.’
“’Why haven’t you been pushing him to me?’” Maloney wanted to know.
“’Because Martin doesn’t like him.’”
Maloney made an executive decision, and it is one that does get him into the books. The road to history and to the Cup is littered with serendipity.
“With all due respect to Martin Madden, who was a good scout, if Crister liked someone, and that much, that was good enough for me,” Maloney said.
And so with the 205th pick of the draft, the Rangers selected Henrik Lundqvist, who could breathe again.
“What a relief it was,” the current Conn Smythe front-runner said. “I went down to the table and put on my Ranger jersey for the first time.
“That whole experience, I will never forget it.”
Five years later, Lundqvist became a Ranger. Ladislav Vlcek never played an NHL game. Thirteen of the 21 goaltenders selected ahead of Lundqvist never played an NHL game. Two of them played in only one game, including Calgary’s Krahn.
Fourteen years later, a championship beckons.
“Just think about it,” Maloney said. “Arguably the greatest goalie in Rangers history — and who knows, maybe by the time he’s through, the greatest player in Rangers history — and this is how it happened.
“A lucky glance at Crister Rockstrom’s notebook.”