(Most pictures by me!)
The outpouring of admiration and affection for the incomparable Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as they played their final three games for the lowly Canucks, was like nothing I’ve witnessed in my more than half a century of following sports. Fans, scribes, commentators, competitors, all the way down to the referees and well, just about everyone, joined in the celebration and heartfelt farewells in a way that went beyond the usual tributes to the end of a great player’s career. They seemed to be an acknowledgment that, in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League, the Sedins were something special.
TThey were not the equal of Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux, the Rocket, or some of the other NHL greats of the past, but they played the game as it had never been played. Their ability to find each other with a no-look perfect pass, whether behind the back, through a crowd or simply by directing the puck to a seemingly innocuous part of the ice where the other Sedin would suddenly appear was other-worldly. At times, they seemed hockey-playing aliens from another planet.
They did so without howitzer shots, blinding speed or bruising physical play, absorbing all the hacking and physical punishment from lesser players without retaliation. Daniel and Henrik were the antithesis of Don Cherry and that old-school consensus of “the way the game should be played.” Rather they were all about Finesse. With a capital F.
Even during the Canucks’ difficult last few years and beginning to age, whenever the Sedins hit the ice, you knew there was still a possibility of magic, a play that left you gasping with its brilliance. It was a magic that came to be known as “Sedinery”, an uncanny combination of dexterity and puckwork that surely had something to do with the chemistry of being identical twins. At their peak, they made journeymen linemates into 30-goal scorers, if they knew enough to merely wait for the puck near the net, where one of the Sedins would find them with a pinpoint pass.
Yet it’s often forgotten that their success was far from immediate or inevitable. They were not Gretzky or Lemieux, who were dominant pretty much from game one. One look at the pair of red-cheeked, innocent-looking teenagers drafted by the Canucks, and you could see the problem. How could these seemingly fragile kids from beautiful Örnsköldsvik possibly survive the rough and tumble, often brutal NHL? During their sometimes difficult, early years, they were mocked by many. Belittlers included some so-called Vancouver sports personalities, who shamefully dubbed them “the Sedin sisters” for their endless cycling of the puck and allegedly being Swedish soft. They also took a beating on the ice. But they never whined, never complained. Their extraordinary strength of character saw them through it.
Realizing that what had worked in Sweden wasn’t going to cut it in the rough, tough NHL, through sheer hard work they gradually got it right, improving their skating and building up their strength and stamina. Teammates attested to their fitness. No one showed up at training camp in better shape, a status they maintained religiously throughout the rigours of an NHL season. While their artistry with the puck grabbed the headlines, few remarked on how many plays began with Daniel or Henrik using their physical strength and toughness to protect the puck in the corner or along the boards, before passing. I have never seen players more skilled at operating in such little open ice. By season four, their climb to hockey’s elite had begun. Even this year, at the age of 37, with an unending rotation of nondescript wingers, both still had more points than in any of those first four seasons with the Canucks.
Over the years, there were so many good times, so many nights when they would get on one of their dazzling cycles and absolutely mesmerize the other team, before chalking up another goal. In 2009-2010, Henrik won the scoring title and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. The next year, not to be outdone by his older brother, younger Daniel also won the scoring title, plus the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player. There were also the not so good times, of course, particularly the devastating loss in the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup final. And the last few years have been a challenge. But through it all, they never shied from the media or making themselves accountable when they had not been at their best.
In the three games that followed their retirement announcement, the way opposing players waited patiently for a last handshake with the Sedins before heading to the dressing room attested to the great respect they engendered around the league, a respect that extended to rabid supporters of the hometown Edmonton Oilers. At the end of their final game, they kept cheering as Daniel and Henrik skated around the ice, as if they, too, could not bear to see the end of their special talents. And, lest we forget the incredible, rollicking send-off in Vancouver two night earlier. Not only were there ovation after ovation for the local heroes, Daniel scored the winning goal in overtime, setting off a roar the likes of which hadn’t been heard since the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was his second goal of the game, each assisted, naturally, by Henrik, as the twins cranked up their game one last time for a story-book ending to their astounding careers.
The reception in both their home and enemy rinks was as much a recognition of the Sedins’ exemplary character. They didn’t trash talk, didn’t make excuses, didn’t bemoan bad luck. They both remain married to their high-school sweethearts and are raising their kids as normally as possible right here in Vancouver. They are common visitors to city hospitals and involved with select charities, without attracting attention to themselves. When the Sedins gave $1.5 million to BC Children’s Hospital, only at the insistence of the hospital was their donation made public.
Late in their final game against the Oilers, hearing broadcaster john Shorthouse announce for the zillionth time: “Daniel, back to Henrik, pass to Daniel…over to Henrik…”, a wave of sadness, swept over me, as it sank in just how much I will miss them. They were as much a part of Vancouver as the rain, unaffordable real estate prices and the North Shore mountains. Watching the Sedins over their 17 seasons with the boys of Orca is one of the absolute highlights of my many, many years as a hockey fan. I still can’t quite grasp the fact that the twins will not be lacing up their skates for another season, and sweaters 22 and 33 will be missing from the Canucks’ lineup for the first time this century. A magnificent chapter has closed, and we will never see its like again.
I do have one last, mischievous thought. For the longest time not even their coaches could tell the Sedins apart. Now that the tumult and the shouting have died, I can’t help wondering: did Daniel and Henrik ever switch jerseys, just for the fun of it?