A live broadcast is not unlike playing in a professional sports game.
There is preparation similar to that of an athlete. It involves watching film, meeting with the team to go over the rundown, and, as the lights flicker on and the director counts down, the adrenaline kicks in.
So when Henrik Lundqvist announced his move to the broadcast booth last fall, it seemed like a natural transition. "The King," as the former New York Rangers goaltending great came to be known as, was always an insightful quote during his 15-year NHL career.
He found a home at MSG Networks, reuniting with his former backup goalie Stephen Valiquette and longtime studio host John Giannone.
The former teammates that used to help each other on the ice fell back into a familiar habit of helping each other in the studio.
"In a lot of ways, the backup goaltender's job in a supporting role is to keep the No. 1 guy feeling really good about themselves. Make him feel really good about himself to where his confidence never wavers," Valiquette told Bleacher Report. "Henrik knows that I watch the broadcasts when I get home. I watch it over again. I watch our pregame show, I watch the game and I watch the postgame show. He'll text me the next morning and ask, 'What did you think? What did you see last night?' We're going through the same exercise."
A seventh-round pick in the 2000 NHL draft, he became one of the most prolific goaltenders of a generation. He led the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, won a Vezina Trophy and will probably be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in a few years.
Friday night, his No. 30 jersey will be lifted to the rafters at Madison Square Garden. He'll become just the 11th Ranger to have his number retired.
Lundqvist had 459 wins on the ice in 15 years on Broadway, the most in Rangers history, the most for any European-born goaltender and the sixth-most in the NHL. He won 30 or more games 11 times in his career and only had two seasons without at least 20 wins, the final two seasons of his career when he was passing the torch to Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, the team's current Vezina-caliber goalie.
For an elite athlete like Lundqvist was, television provides a comparative competitive kick to playing.
There are wins and losses in every broadcast, but they're more subjective. It isn't a number on a scoreboard; it's the end of the show when the stage manager signals that the show is off the air. You know whether that broadcast was a win or a loss. The talent knows when a script was out of place, and the producer knows when there were tech issues.
There is little room for error and so much that goes on behind the scenes that the viewers will never see.
"There was one night in particular, he didn't like his performance," Valiquette said. "And I assured him the next day that what he thought was bad in his mind, you couldn't see it on on the screen."
This is why so many athletes gravitate to media jobs after wrapping up their playing careers. The adrenaline rush feels similar. It's easy and fun to talk about a sport they've spent their life playing, and it's a way to satisfy the drive and determination of a high-level athlete that doesn't just go away after the skates have been hung up.
Lundqvist's decision to stop playing wasn't so much his own. He signed a contract with the Washington Capitals for the pandemic-shortened 2021 season after the Rangers bought out the remainder of his contract. But a heart condition that required surgery kept him out of action in Washington and eventually forced him to retire.
It was almost fitting in that it allowed him to retire a Ranger.
"I still loved the game and really enjoyed going to the rink," Lundqvist said Friday before his number raised to the rafters. "But in the end, the heart said no. I look back at it and kind of laugh at how much I struggled to try to go somewhere else. But all along I knew this was the place and I'm really proud that I played my entire career in New York City with the New York Rangers.
A desire to stay involved with the Rangers and their fans led him to the MSG studios. The Swede's family still calls New York home, and his kids are in school there. He turned his desire to play into a desire to help fans understand what goes through a goalie's head or a skater's head in certain situations.
"I had a great meeting with (James) Dolan this fall when I came back from Sweden. We sat down and talked about what's next. I told him I want to stay connected and let's start with MSG Networks," Lundqvist said. "I really enjoy working there with Steve and John and the crew they have there. It's been awesome."
Lundqvist the goalie approaches his new job the same way he approached his old one.
"He's not up there just winging it. He prepares because that's in his DNA. That's who he is," Valiquette said. "He wants to be prepared. He wants to have a great show. And I know because the next day he is asking me about what I thought. That's Henrik. That's why he's been really good on multiple platforms."
The learning curve hasn't been steep, but adjustments are always being made as someone learns a new role.
Lundqvist has an obvious camera presence, and his passion for the game shows through when he's breaking down plays on the ice. There have been a few instances where he's been a little too passionate, unable to concisely wrap up his thoughts before a commercial break.
That's where working with veterans like Valiquette and Giannone is beneficial. Giannone has an innate sense of timing and can effortlessly segue when the crosstalk goes on too long. Valiquette, who founded Clear Sight Analytics, can use his analytical background to add to Lundqvist's insight. They all have their roles and they can all play off one another, with Giannone guiding it all.
"Not everybody would know all of the small mistakes that he cleans up," Valiquette said. "Whether I'm going too long, Henrik does something, there might be something on the switchboard that doesn't come clean. John is always tap-dancing through these things. At the same time he's ad-reading something that maybe he's got to tighten up and change the wording just to shorten it to fit it in. Those are, those are all the juggling mechanisms behind the curtain."
The broadcast booth also allows athletes to showcase their personalities, something fans don't get to see much of during their playing years. We've seen Lundqvist playing the guitar during the intermission of an NHL on TNT broadcast. He's displayed that infamous sense of style with an array of dapper suits and a sense of humor.
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It's the man behind the mask.
"I know both Vally and John really well and I think that’s a part of the excitement as well," Lundqvist said. "I want to surround myself with people that I can have fun with."
While live TV might have some familiar elements for Lundqvist, there are others that can't be replicated. The bus rides, the team dinners and the sense of accomplishment a team collectively feels when they go deep into the postseason are all things he's had to leave behind. There was some nostalgia in a one-on-one interview with Valiquette, which will air at 5:30 p.m. ET on MSG Network to kick off the network's pregame ceremony coverage, especially when it came to the 2014 Eastern Conference championship team.
"Looking back at everything you went through together and the memories together, it’s so much fun. And it’s bittersweet," Lundqvist said. "It was such a cool moment. It’s just that feeling on the ice when it happens and you share it with all the guys. You work together for so long to get to that point; it’s such a good feeling. And you just enjoy that rush. And I think that’s something that’s going to be hard to replace, and I’m just happy I got to experience it."
Friday night, the only club that Lundqvist ever played for and its fans will give the former netminder a celebration for a king. But while it might mark the storied end of one career, his second act on Broadway and beyond has only just started.
"I think for the longest time, my focus was on performing and achieving different things," Lundqvist said. "I think my biggest focus right now is to be happy, feel good and be inspired."