Mattias Norstrom thought he had left hockey behind when he retired in 2008 and went home to Stockholm, where he joined two friends in starting a business that insures Swedish athletes and artists.
But hockey won't let go of Norstrom. It maintains an unbreakable hold through the many friends he made during a solid career that included 11-plus seasons with the Kings and the distinction of being the first European-born player to serve as their captain.
Norstrom, 38, made a tentative return to the game in February as an assistant coach of Team Sweden at the Vancouver Olympics. On Saturday, he will take a different sort of step back when he returns to Staples Center to be honored by the Kings for his leadership and character in the 780 games he played for them, second-most among defensemen in franchise history.
He was never a great scorer: His four-goal, 27-point output in 2005-06 represented his high points offensively. But he was physical, smart and universally respected. In short, a fine teammate, and in hockey there's no greater compliment.
"As an organization, we need to acknowledge and thank some of the players who have given so much and tell them we appreciate their sacrifices," said Luc Robitaille, a teammate of Norstrom's and now the Kings' president of business operations.
"When we bring back a guy like Matty, we say, 'We acknowledge and thank you for all your great years of service.' Matty represented our team and our character for so many years."
Norstrom brought his wife, Kristin, and Torrance-born daughters Linnae, 9, and Emma, 6, on his first visit to Los Angeles in two years. It's a trip up the 405 and down Memory Lane for Norstrom, who said it's impossible to pick one event as the highlight of his stay.
"It's all the different people. With every one it's a different thing," said Norstrom, who was the Kings' captain from October 2001 until he was traded to Dallas in February 2007.
"I went down to the rink to see Luc, and I ran into a lot of the people working around the rink. I ran into people from the PR department. There were so many people I knew. For me, being here so long I had a personal relationship with most of them.
"I remember the days we practiced up in the Valley. I remember the old Forum. I remember watching Staples Center come up, and then being able to play in there. There are too many good memories to sum it up with one incident."
He said he enjoyed his term with the Swedish Olympic team but went back to his insurance job without regrets. Still, he was drawn back to hockey in August after he was asked to run workouts for a group of Swedish NHL players in Stockholm.
"I went into it with a real open mind, but it's not like I felt, 'Wow, this is my calling. I want to be in coaching,' " he said of his Olympic experience. "Maybe not at that level. If I ever get into coaching, maybe it would be with teenagers or kids that decided they want to try to get into the NHL.
"It's more than working with a team, it's working to develop some of the young guys. I feel like I have more to give there than in the NHL. And also that attracts me, that age, to work with kids."
He said he keeps close tabs on the NHL, mainly through the Internet.
"I almost call it the disease of the ex-NHL players. I don't know why, but for some reason I keep track of standings and watch highlights without even thinking about it," he said. "It's just a habit. Let's see what's going on with old friends. How are they playing now? How many minutes?"
He keeps an especially close eye on the Kings, who have only three players left who skated alongside him: Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Peter Harrold. Some former teammates scheduled to participate in Saturday's festivities are Rob Blake, Ian Laperriere, Derek Armstrong, Glen Murray, Jamie Storr, Nelson Emerson, Mathieu Schneider and Craig Johnson.
"I like the way they play the game. I really like the group they have here. It's exciting to watch," he said of the current team.
"Right now they're competing at the top of the conference. They played real well last year too. It's nice to see a little bit of a turnaround here in L.A."