By Ian Oland
Henrik Lundqvist sat down with former New York Rangers’ teammate Kevin Weekes for a powerful three-part interview, which is airing on NHL Network Tuesday through Thursday. In part one of the chat, Lundqvist spoke for 12 minutes about being bought out by the New York Rangers, signing with the Washington Capitals, and learning that he’d need open-heart surgery.
Lundqvist said that he first learned that he needed the procedure done as he was about to pack to leave for Washington DC ahead of the 2020-21 season.
“For a few months, we’d been doing some testing on my heart,” Lundqvist said. “I’ve been aware of a heart condition for 15 years. I had a leaky valve and at some point, you have to get it fixed. Over the course of a few months, things changed. The leak got worse and my aorta started to get too big and the pressure in the heart was too high.”
That discovery led to doctors recommending open-heart surgery, which Lundqvist agreed to immediately. The future Hall of Fame goaltender went under the knife weeks later in Cleveland.
Lundqvist said that his mental preparation as a goaltender and a hockey player allowed him to get through one of the most difficult periods in his life.
“Those two weeks in the hospital, it was game time,” Lundqvist said. “Okay we’re done with this series now, when I left the hospital, on to the next one.
“I learned so much about myself during the year,” he added. “I hope (this helps) other people in similar situations. Keep it short term especially if it’s a big challenge just so you don’t get overwhelmed. I think that was the key for me.”
On what his last year has been like
Henrik Lundqvist: It’s definitely been a roller coaster. I think for all of us, if you go back 12, 13, 14 months, the things you’ve been dealing with you realize life can throw you a curveball here and there, and personally also the last few months have been different. It’s been an experience.
Going back 12 months, 15 years in New York. The team has changed a lot and my role changed a lot over a couple of months. It was definitely a time there, it was hard. It was hard to know what to think, what to feel. I kind of saw what was happening, what was coming. We all have a vision, my goal, my dream on how things would end in New York. Then you see changes are coming. The big thing for me was to find a place of gratitude for all the years in New York. And when I found that, I was ready for the change. Everything about Washington felt right. I saw it as a great challenge and an experience to learn from and grow.
On happiness and remaining calm through challenges
Henrik Lundqvist: Even my brother asks me, Henrik are you in your happy place? He kind of makes fun of it but at the same time, it was a big journey for me. How I see things, happiness maybe. I was in a tough place a year ago. And then I had to work on my mindset. Everything comes down to your mindset. How we think in any situation determines how you kind of react and how you feel about it. To me, now my focus is… I know what I want. It starts with how I think.
How he first found out he needed open-heart surgery
Henrik Lundqvist: All of this prepared me for December. I brought my bags down and about to pack and go to Washington that week. For a few months, we’d been doing some testing on my heart. I’ve been aware of a heart condition for 15 years. I had a leaky valve and at some point you have to get it fixed. Over the course of a few months, things changed. The leak got worse and my aorta started to get too big and the pressure in the heart was too high.
But all along, I was like, this is going to work. We’re going to make it work. When I get the call from one of the specialists, it was part of the process and he was like, ‘I’m sorry your test came back worse than we thought.’ In that moment I knew there was no talking. Should I? Should I not? The next step there is to get on the phone with a surgeon. ‘What’s the next step here? What are we doing?’ Two weeks later, I’m on a bed in Cleveland going in for open-heart surgery. Everything happened so fast.
The day of surgery
Henrik Lundqvist: I didn’t have much time to think about it. I was very calm. I think being an athlete and being used to focusing on things, I think that really helped me. I remember laying there outside the operating room, you start to think about, ‘Is this really happening? Am I really going in that room to open my chest and a machine is going to keep me alive?’ It was some pretty heavy stuff to take in. At the same time, you know me, I like control. I like preparation. I like certain things to be a certain way. So in that moment, I think the key was to give up all the control. There’s nothing you can do. You just lay there. These people are extremely good. Just let go of the control. They roll you in. There’s like 12 people there. They actually all introduced themselves, told me what we’re going to do.
They asked me, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’ Just ‘Don’t mess this up!’ And they asked me, ‘What music do you like?’ So they put on John Mayer and [you’re out].
Henrik Lundqvist: The first week was a battle. Couple setbacks. Then things started to improve a lot.
The key was mostly to stay in the moment kind of when you play the game. Don’t look too far. This is what we need to do now. Stay in that. Just took it step by step. Every day was like a new period. Before you know it, it’s been 10 days. It made me more relaxed.
Being there and part of, because of COVID my kids could not list, there was one time that I was extremely emotional. My wife – they all stayed in Cleveland at my agent’s house – took my kids to the parking lot so I could see them. They waved and Facetimed. That hit me. It’s so hard. But other than that, get through this, get through the next couple hours whether it was tests you had to do or the walker, start walking.
I was back to that game mentality until I left.
What it was like to see his kids again
Henrik Lundqvist: My wife came to the hospital every day. You were only allowed one visitor. Obviously, enormous support throughout my career but especially times like these she’s been incredible. Then to see the kids. It’s back to gratitude. You refocus. A month earlier it was all about preparing for [the surgery]. Now I’m just happy to hug you guys. I start the process of getting my life back.
Henrik Lundqvist: (Visiting Washington) was awesome considering everything I’ve been through. Turn it into good energy.
Those two weeks in the hospital, it was game time. Okay we’re done with this series now, when I left the hospital. On to the next one.
I learned so much about myself during the year. I hope other people in similar situations… keep it short term especially if it’s a big challenge just so you don’t get overwhelmed. I think that was the key for me.
Screenshot courtesy of NHL Network
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