I think most people would be shocked to discover the “King of New York” is from a tiny hamlet.
[Laughs.] Yeah. But it was perfect. It was so small, and all about skiing. There are 1,500 people living there, tops, but during the wintertime a lot of people come there to ski and have a good time. I grew up with my twin brother and my sister and it was all about sports for us. My dad was a ski instructor, so we skied a lot, but hockey was always No. 1, and from an early age.
How small are we talking? Any traffic lights in Are [Lundqvist’s hometown in Sweden]?
No traffic lights.
Yes. When I lived there, they turned the high-school gym into the theatre. And it was a flat floor, so they’d pull out the folding chairs. If you had a tall guy in front of you, you were screwed. [Laughs.]
Your first exposure to a big city, was it Gothenburg? And were you shocked?
Yes, because my grandma lived close to Gothenburg, and my dad’s from Gothenburg. He took me and my brother to our first hockey game there. You come from this little town and you walk into this arena with 12,000 people — it was a lot to take in. But it was over there that it started for us, me and my brother. “Wow, we want to play for this team one day.” We were five and we became huge fans of this club, Frolunda. Eleven years later, we ended up there. I got used to the big city, the stoplights, the people, traffic.
The story of how you became a goalie is great.
I was a soccer goalie as well — for some reason, I liked that position. And my brother was always shooting pucks at me on the street, on the lake. At our first team practice, I saw this guy come out with goalie equipment and my eyes just lit up. I loved the gear. I thought it was so cool — and the gear was awful back then. The coach asked if someone wanted to be in net, and my brother raised my hand and pointed at me. We knew, you know? We finished each other’s sentences.
Twins. It was like one person, really, until we were 14. Then we started to get our own personalities. I like to go my own way a little more than he does. But that’s how it started with me in net, and I loved it right away.
I heard you guys are pretty competitive. If Joel had 10 shootout attempts on you today, how many times would he score, if any?
If any. Well, I skated with him twice this summer. I joined the team [Frolunda] back there for a couple of practices and we went head-to-head for a couple of rounds. I think he scored one on seven or eight. And I really don’t know who has the advantage. You might think that I know what he’s gonna do, but he thinks the same way — he knows what I’m gonna do. It’s fun, though, to go head-to-head against your friend or your brother, because your competition gets so much more important.
Maybe you overthink it.
I try not to. I hope he’s overthinking it. That’s my goal.
How have you been the most consistent goalie in the NHL for 10 years?
I don’t know. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I always try to take one step in the right direction. I want to improve. I’ve been lucky, because we have a team that’s been very consistent. We’ve had a game plan over the years, and it’s been good. We have good structure. I have a great goalie coach — he can see when things need to be corrected and he can push me in the right direction. That’s meant a lot to my career and my development and the way I push myself.
How has your style evolved?
I think I settled down a little bit.
Settled down in your old age? Just kidding!
[Laughs.] Yeah, well, you get smarter, you know? I’m still pretty aggressive when I play. Even though I sit back, I need to be aggressive. I play on my toes. I think it’s been about finding a better balance on and off the ice. I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes to hockey — good preparation. But I feel like the past few years I’ve been better at finding that balance of not too much, not too little. Less intense.
Goalies are always a little different. Are you?
Well, different is good, right? I think you do get exposed to a very unique situation as a goalie with all the pressure and what you’re doing out there. The way you think and act might sometimes come across as different because of the pressure you’re under. If I look at my buddies back home, I don’t see myself as very different from them.
Has New York changed you?
Yes and no. My basic view of life and the way I act — I don’t think it’s changed much. My situation has changed so much: I have two kids. You get older and your priorities change a little bit. Hopefully you get a little smarter as well. I try. You get a better understanding of the game and of people around you.
There’s a lot of talk about your looks and your style. Do your teammates razz you when you’re in Vogue or People?
They did back in the day. It’s a different time now, though. I remember coming to New York 10 years ago. It was different. The older guys didn’t really care as much as they do now about how they present themselves and their clothing. I think it’s good for the game. I think it’s good that we always travel in suits. It gives a professional look to the organization. We’re all pros, right?
You always dressed up, even as a rookie.
Maybe I took it too far sometimes. Maybe I had to relax a little bit, but that was me. I definitely had some battles with the older guys, and they were questioning my outfits my first couple of years in the league. But I kind of stayed on my course. Like I said, I like to go my own way sometimes. But it was fun.
What would it mean to win the Stanley Cup in New York?
You dream about it, you picture it happening. That’s definitely the biggest goal and dream I have right now. It’s my biggest motivation to try to get better and try to help the team win. I’ve been there for 10 years, and we’ve been close the past few years. I really hope we can take that final step now. It’s time.