DETROIT, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- The reunion stretched on a little long, because the perfect good-bye was to let Nicklas Lidstrom linger.
The Swede who played his way into hockey history books and Detroit Red Wings lore kept his face neutral for most of the evening Thursday, finally breaking into a smile and a sweet look at his wife and sons as his number went to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
Lidstrom called it "a tremendous honor" to see his No. 5 join the company of Steve Yzerman's 19, Gordie Howe's 9, Sid Abel's 12, Ted Lindsay's 7, Alex Delvecchio's 10 and Terry Sawchuk's 1, a legend's row of banners. It was a foregone conclusion he belonged there, long before he called it a day on his NHL career in May of 2012, after two decades with the Wings.
Many former teammates and coaches were in attendance: Scotty Bowman. Brendan Shanahan. Vladimir Konstantinov. Tomas Holmstrom. Robert Lang. Chris Chelios. Anders Eriksson. Igor Larionov. Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio and Mark Howe were there, too.
Speaking before the ceremony, Shanahan summed up Lidstrom perfectly.
"You always say it's a game of mistakes," he said, "but Nick proved us all wrong."
Chris Ilitch, representing owners Mike and Marian Ilitch because they were unable to attend, said Lidstrom, "was everything you could ever want in a Red Wing."
Among the more touching moments of the night: The standing ovation that greeted Konstantinov when he was introduced, which segued into "Vlad-die" chants as Konstantinov delightedly waved to fans. Konstantinov's career ended a limousine crash a week after the 1997 Stanley Cup champions. And Lidstrom thanking the wife and children of former defense partner Brad McCrimmon, who passed away in a plane crash in Russia in 2011.
Among the funnier moments: Lidstrom revealing he'd asked to wear No. 9 because that's "what I wore in Sweden," he said, and being told, "kid, that ain't gonna happen," and from then on, "keeping my mouth shut." Lidstrom joking that all his sons wanted the keys to the Ram truck he was given midway through the ceremony. He also got a family trip for an African safari.
Lidstrom smiled as he needled Holmstrom, a close friend who had incredible chemistry with Lidstrom on ice.
"I'm not sure how many shots you blocked or how many goals I scored that were disallowed because you were standing in the crease," Lidstrom said as Holmstrom sat grinning, "but if you weren't standing there, I wouldn't have scored as many."
Lidstrom spent the first few minutes of his speech acknowledging the role Yzerman, the former captain and fellow Wings legend, played in Lidstrom's career. "One of the reasons I'm standing here," Lidstrom said, "is Steve Yzerman. Steve showed what it's like to be a leader."
The two Wings legends spoke by phone earlier in the day. Yzerman had planned to be in attendance, but had to change plans to tend to his duties as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning because of events that transpired during Wednesday's trade deadline.
The ceremony kicked into gear shortly before 7 p.m., when a video montage of Lidstrom's career highlights was shown on the Jumbotron. Someone obviously had a heavy editing hand, because his whole career was a hockey highlight.
Mike Babcock was the first to speak, pointing out that even he was Lidstrom's last coach, "many people think he coached me."
Ken Holland, who had a running joke about retiring the day after Lidstrom, thanked the Colorado Avalanche for "working with us," naming Joe Sakic, the former Avs captain who is now a team executive. The Avs, of course, were the Wings' arch rival from the mid-90s stretching into the next decade, though Lidstrom was the one guy who seemed above all that.
Holland itemized Lidstrom's assets as efficiently as is possible about someone so special. "Nick is humble, he has no ego, he was truly an incredible captain and leader for our team."
Lidstrom, 43, retired with hardware and history galore: Four Stanley Cup championships, seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenseman. The First European player to be named NHL playoff MVP. The first European-born and trained NHL captain to win Stanley Cup. He's a member of the so-called Triple Gold Club: Olympic gold medal, World Championship gold medal, Stanley Cup champion.
"Boy, do I miss watching No. 5 play," Holland said.
The game against the Avalanche started 20 minutes later than scheduled, but that should have been expected. You can't rush through planning a perfect night.