Kukla's Korner

Petshark: Talking Stick

Last of the Nordiques

Owen Nolan didn’t want to stop playing professional hockey.  He knew it was time but he fought it all the way.  When we’re done doing one thing and ready to move on to the next thing, it is often called retirement.  I think I’ve retired from school, but along the way I graduated a lot too.  Seems like there’s more hope and optimism attached to graduation than to retirement, though both situations are a little like being evicted from your long time home.  Some people cry, and other people give you congratulation gifts.

Nolan’s retirement was a little different in that he was simultaneously re-connected to the Sharks organization, though he hadn’t played with the team for many seasons.  Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau presented him with a Captain’s jersey in the new Sharks colors.

While the introductions were going on, while others were listing his accomplishments and his importance to the organization, Nolan’s expression was impassive.  Was he considering what he was going to say, or remembering seeing others do this, or trying to decide what he was doing later in the day or this weekend?  What in the world do you really think about during those speeches, how to keep your composure when your time to speak comes?

When the time came, Nolan didn’t cry, but he paused a lot to get started.  Emotion is harder to control when you can’t burn it off, like in a hockey game.

It’s one thing to make the decision yourself.  It becomes a real commitment when you mention it to others, friends and family.  Making a public announcement in front of cameras isn’t the same kind of gut-wrenching shift as making the decision, but it’s an end of the process, an end of the distraction of the deciding.  It makes the decision final and irrevocable.  That can sting.

Then you’re out.  Now what?

“I’m still trying to gear down from the competitiveness,” Nolan said. “It’s tough when you watch it on TV—you’re still twitching and questioning why guys do certain things. I’m trying to tone down from that and accept the retirement side, but at some point I’d like to go back in.” -Mercury News

“Gear down from the competitiveness…accept the retirement side.”  What’s that thing they say about energy, that it is never lost, it is only transformed?  I think competitiveness might be like that too.  It’s part of the character.  If toning that down is part of retirement, I think Owen Nolan is far too young to retire.  So let’s call it a graduation, from a school he liked and didn’t want to leave.

I saw those quizzes out there before the ceremony, about what was your favorite/most memorable Owen Nolan moment.  I felt badly because his heyday was before my hockey time, or in between them… or something.  For me, a memorable moment would have been seen him get his equipment bag tangled in the swinging doors at Sharks Ice.  He saw me see him and he gave a little grin and a “Good morning.”  He didn’t look angry at the doors, just a little confused.

Retired?  I’m trying to visualize gold watch and golf carts and bridge games… um, no.  Not yet, Mr. Nolan, not yet.

“When your body won’t do what your mind and heart are willing to do, it’s time to move on.” -ibid

“Move on,” that’s better.

After the introductions and welcomes and thank yous, the floor asked a couple of questions.  Then some questions came over the phone, one caller mentioned that Nolan was the last of the Quebec Nordiques to retire.  I couldn’t find where that information was eventually published if anywhere, so I don’t know for sure if it’s true but I like it anyway.  That detail seemed especially melancholy to me, not so much for Nolan, but for Quebec.

I often wonder what it’s like to do one thing from the time you’re a child until you retire, to have the same activity take up most of your energy and time for 20 or 30 or more years.  My generation is so frenetic, so many of us have more jobs than years at one.  It isn’t supposed to be like that.  We’re supposed to put down roots, not only in the home:

“It’s tough to give up something you love,” Nolan said. “We’re all programmed to keep doing it.” -ibid

I’d go a step further and say we’re programmed to keep doing, love it or not.  That’s how we evolved, families and villages all engaged in the same industry, soldiers, fishermen, midwives and politicians, growing up to do what they do, then raising their children to do the same.  Society has mixed things up since those village days but we still long for the security of knowing what we will be doing years from now, knowing that someone else will do it after us, secure in a continuum of activity.

That’s why retirement, or graduation is such a shock to the system.  Even if it’s scheduled, it’s like a doomsday prediction, no one knows what comes after.  Well, some geeky kids who have already enrolled in grad school know what’s coming, sort of.  But most of us don’t know what comes next when the rug slides out from under our feet.  We are not programmed to like that.

So, what next, Mr. Nolan?  Plastics maybe?

Filed in: , San Jose Sharks, | Petshark: Talking Stick | Permalink
  Tags: owen+nolan, retirement



he’s not “officially” the last of the Nordiques. Chris Simon and Martin Rucinsky are still playing, although in the KHL. Both are unlikely to come back to the NHL, but neither is “retired”. Hejduk was drafted as a Nord, but since they moved the next year, I’m not sure you can count him. The only other draft pick still playing is…...(insert drum roll)....Tim Thomas.

Posted by mike from edmonton on 02/08/12 at 04:32 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Thank you.  I hate it when they forget about the KHL.  I heard some other player called retired when I knew perfectly well he was still playing over there.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 02/08/12 at 07:44 PM ET


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Posted by thomas lund from Australia on 02/20/12 at 12:04 PM ET

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net