Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Owen Nolan To Retire

Owen Nolan, my favorite hockey player of any I ever got to see live, is retiring today. From the San Jose Sharks website:
The San Jose Sharks will hold a press conference on Tuesday, February 7, at which point Owen Nolan will make an announcement regarding the future of his hockey career.
That means he's retiring. He doesn't make an announcement with a team he hasn't played for since 2003 unless he's coming back. And, since he hasn't played this season, he's retiring.

Nolan was the first round pick of Quebec in 1990, #1 overall. Ahead of Jaromir Jagr and Martin Bordeur. He never had Jagr's skill, but Jagr never had Nolan's heart or drive. As a 38-year-old, Nolan fought one of the NHL's top heavyweights in Colton Orr. Anything to win.

My favorite Nolan moments were his all-star game 'called shot' over Dominic Hasek. Nolan calls upper right, hits upper right, and gets a hat trick in front of his home fans in San Jose:

His playoff goal from center ice against St. Louis, was the game winner- propelling #8 seed San Jose over the #1 seed Blues.

I remember a discussion I had once with a baseball writer, on the subject of Ted Williams' brag about hitting a baseball being the hardest thing in sports to do. I countered that a great baseball player gets a hit 30% of the time, while a great hockey player scores a goal 20% of the time.

Discussion continued until I pointed out that the baseball player knows when his chances are coming. He steps into the box, he sees the pitcher wind up. Here comes the ball. Swing or don't. The hockey player never knows when his chances are coming. When the chance comes, he's going to have opponents hitting him with their shoulders, gloved hands, and sticks. The baseball player can hit into a huge field. The hockey player hits into net 4' x 6', with a man standing there who's sole job is to make sure he stops you. An average NHL goalie stops 90% of the shots he faces.

And, I would have loved to see Ted Williams do the equivalent of a tip-in goal. Imagine Williams standing in the batter's box with someone blasting his lower back with a stick, while a 90-mph slapshot comes at him, he re-directs the puck behind him into a target he cannot see, past a man whose sole job is to stop the puck. Nolan was good at that.

When I started playing hockey at the young age of 28, I modeled my game after Nolan's. All I lacked was the skill and size. I could give you stoopid toughness. I came to understand in a big hurry why players like him don't usually last too long- and I was just playing recreational hockey. But he made it through 18 NHL seasons, played 1,200 games, and scored 422 goals (71st all-time), 1,793 penalty minutes. You get 5 minutes for a fight.

Total package of skill and toughness, a rare thing in the NHL anymore. I got to see him play in Columbus three times in Sharks games against the Blue Jackets, and it was a singular thrill. I did wear my #11 jersey to those games. Sorry to see his career at an end, but enjoyed the heck out it along the way. Best of luck in the future, Owen Nolan!

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