LOS ANGELES — On a night in which the Los Angeles Kings handed the once-vaunted New Jersey Devils a 3-1 defeat, shutting down the mighty $100 million superstar Ilya Kovalchuk in the process, the Kings took time to pay tribute to their past, and to one of their own.
Former Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom was back in Los Angeles on October 30, and was honored by the team during a pre-game ceremony.
“It is fun, it’s great being back,” said Norstrom, who played in 780 regular season games with the Kings over eleven seasons after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers on March 14, 1996. “I haven’t been back here for two-and-a-half years. The last time I was back was with the [Dallas] Stars in the Spring of ’08.”
“It’s always good to be back, especially after such a long history—eleven years,” added Norstrom, who ranks second in franchise history in games played by a defenseman and fifth overall. “So it’s the hockey side of it, but it’s also the private life we lead. Both [of his] girls were born here. It’s just fun to be back.”
“It’s a fun night, it’s a real pleasure to be here, and for the Kings to put something like this on—I thank [former Kings teammate and current Kings President/Business Operations] Luc [Robitaille] a lot. I think he was the one pushing the idea.”
Norstrom, a tough, physical, stay-at-home, defensive defenseman who scored 14 goals and added 128 assists for 142 points with 583 penalty minutes with the Kings, was visibly touched by the ovation he received from the Staples Center crowd, and said he was deeply honored that the Kings would pay tribute to him.
“Even to get this kind of recognition from the Kings is a true honor and I’m really happy to be here,” said the 38-year-old native of Stockholm, Sweden, who was quick to point out that he was not being honored because he was a superstar.
“It is a great honor to get that call,” he said. “I don’t look at myself as a player [who was a superstar]. I think the word, ‘superstar’ gets thrown around too much. There are very few, select people who I think deserve to be called that, and I’m not even close to being among them.”
Norstrom also paid tribute back to the fans.
“I am amazed [that Kings fans have stuck with the team despite all the lean years],” said Norstrom, who missed just 33 games during his time with Kings. “I appreciate so much that they exist, these fans, in a market where you might think that there are so many other things pulling [them in another direction].”
Several of Norstrom’s former Kings teammates were present for the pre-game ceremony, including defensemen Rob Blake and Mathieu Schneider, forwards Derek Armstrong, Nelson Emerson, Ian Laperriere, Glen Murray and Luc Robitaille, along with goaltender Jamie Storr.
“[The ceremony was a] great thing for a great player, a great teammate,” said Laperriere, who was a fan favorite in Los Angeles and received a raucous ovation when he was introduced. “He’s been a friend for years. I’m just glad I was able to make it.”
“A lot of the players I played with are remembered [by the fans],” said Norstrom. “It’s great to see Lappy here—he was a big fan favorite. It’s great to see him back here and to see the appreciation that he got.”
Norstrom, who was the Kings’ first European-born captain from 2001-07, was sent to the Stars in a trade deadline deal on February 27, 2007. He retired from the NHL after the 2007-08 season, ending his career with 18 goals and 147 assists for 165 points with 661 penalty minutes in 903 regular season games with the Rangers, Kings and Stars.
He also played in 56 playoff games for the three teams, scoring two goals and adding five assists for seven points with 16 penalty minutes.
“I felt so fortunate to be able to play at this level for so long,” Norstrom noted. “But I also told myself when I made it into the league that if I even get close to a point where I start questioning that, [it’s time to] retire, and I think I got to that point where I loved the game, but wanted to leave it playing the way I was used to—a lot of minutes and having an important role. That’s how I felt I finished my career with the Stars.”
“Now, being a little more on the outside looking in, you see guys hinting that it’s tough with the hard travel, the schedule…’it’s hard on us,’” Norstrom added. “You have an option: retire. Do that if it’s too hard.”
“A lot of my friends here did not get to finish their careers on their own terms, and I did. I think that also makes it an easier decision to [transition into] life after hockey.”
His life after hockey included serving as an assistant coach for Team Sweden during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is also part-owner of a business back home in Sweden that works with Swedish artists and athletes who work both in Sweden and abroad, assisting them with financial planning, insurance, and other matters.
Norstrom follows the Kings quite closely and feels they are moving in the right direction.
“It’s exciting to see this organization, the way they’re moving with this group of players,” he said. “I had a great time here but we were lacking in our success. I’m the first one to admit that, and it’s great to see this younger Kings team having success on the ice.”
“They will get a lot of appreciation from these fans if they keep winning and keep playing as hard as they are.”
More On Mattias Norstrom
- Here’s To A Great King: Mattias Norstrom
- After LA Kings Won The 2012 Stanley Cup, Former Defenseman, Captain Mattias Norstrom Was Green With Envy
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