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The Tough Swede

Three stories to commemorate Mattias Norstrom's retirement (warning: link in Swedish):

-My favorite Matty Norstrom story occurred when he went down to block a shot on a penalty kill and took it directly in the knee. He got up slowly, using his stick to support his body, and began to head to the bench in obvious pain. The puck didn't clear the zone, however, and the other team still had possession. Norstrom stopped and went back to his position, limping all the way. He was out there for another 30 seconds until he finally got a hold of the puck and iced it, then finally headed to the bench. That was tough.

-My second favorite Matty Norstrom story occurred when he took a puck to the mouth, again on a penalty kill. He collapsed and the whistle was blown to stop the play. The trainer headed out onto the ice but Matty suddenly jumped up, blood pouring from his mouth. He threw his stick into the boards, not because he was in pain but seemingly because he was annoyed that he had to leave the game for a few moments. He brushed past the trainer and went straight to the locker room. That was tough.

-The story that best exemplifies Norstrom happened after their bewildering 11-game losing streak at the end of the 2003-04 season. (I don't want to talk about it.) Norstrom didn't live in LA; he went home to Sweden at the end of every season and it was clear that he truly loved it there. Still, he stayed behind that off-season to work with the Kings, to make sure they didn't collapse like that again. A reporter asked Norstrom what he had been planning to do that off-season and Norstrom replied that he was going to build a deck at his home.

These stories are why I love Matty Norstrom. He's a guy that blocks shots, leads teams and builds decks. He's a guy that gave his captaincy to Luc Robitaille during his last home game. He's a guy that offered his captaincy to Rob Blake when he rejoined the team because he thought it was right. He's a guy that would retire at the age of 36 because he knew that his best days were behind him and it was time to start his second life. He was tough but never dirty and in a weird way you would almost describe his play as "honorable." On a rational level, I was glad the Kings traded Matty to the Dallas Stars because he had a big contract and we got a 1st-round pick out of it; still, there is no denying that he will always be one of my favorite players. Here's hoping you finally get a chance to build that deck, Matty.