On Owen Nolan and Growing Up

Alright, hockey, that was unnecessary.

I am already facing the specter of having to find a real job.  I am already being blindsided with the notion that I am, somehow in my last year of college. The point was made when I visited home , and then my old boarding school, and every conversation started with some variation of ‘what are you going to be doing next year’ (answer: I have absolutely no idea). The message was clear enough with my last guaranteed season of playing hockey having just wrapped up.

Now, you had to go and, for the second time in about six months, remind me that my childhood is officially over.

It was one thing when Mike Modano walked away this summer, I mean I had been 5 years old when I started watching Mike fly around Reunion Arena.  Barry Sanders was in his prime.  Modano was a while ago, but like I said at the time, it was still a wakeup call when my first favorite player retired.

I bring this up because while Modano was my first favorite player, Owen Nolan was the man for most of my childhood. Yesterday, he walked away.  I am so not ready to live in this world.

Because the fact is, the Nolan era doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.

Sure, I was in elementary school when he got the Sharks C, and I had season tickets for a team that got an MVP caliber season (seemed that way, at least) with his signature over the head slap shot that found the back of the net 44 times.  But it doesn’t seem like all that long ago, and Nolan wasn’t that old at the time, it is kind of a wakeup call for him to be done.

After all, I  was in sixth grade when I wrote that Owen Nolan should be on a postage stamp for a national essay writing survey (or something like that). I had absolutely no way to back up a case for a Canadian-Northern Irish winger who finished second in the league in goals to be on an American postage stamp, but hickey was what I wanted to write about, and he was my favorite player, so I wrote about Nolan, dammit.  Was sixth grade really that long ago.

Then there was the trade. Seventh grade.  I’m not saying I cried, because I didn’t cry, but I might have cried, and I definitely remember crying when my dad informed me, just as I was walking out to the school bus, that Nolan was now a Toronto Maple Leaf.  Unless we one day trade Patrick Marleau, no players loss will sting quite like that of number 11.  I still can’t believe that we didn’t get more than Alyn McCauley (Brad Boyes may or may not even played a game for the Sharks).

Sure, it has been mostly downhill for Nolan since he left the Sharks.  A mutual friend of an NHLer who was a rookie on a Sharks team that Nolan captained told stories about how big of an ass Nolan could be, down to refusing to even acknowledge rookies that were fighting for spots out of camp.  There was the coach of the Stockton Thunder telling guys at a tryout that they needed to be more consistent in practice, in part because ‘guys like Owen Nolan would try to fight you if you couldn’t make the plays they expected you to.’

None of that stuff sits particularly well, but the portrait that I have of Nolan will never be one of a bad guy.  Maybe I am just making excuses for my childhood idol, but was it not  that fierce competitiveness and that fiery sense of self confidence that made him as effective and exciting as he was on the ice.  Plus, he couldn’t have been classier when he sat down and took a picture with me and my brother during the 1999 SharksFest.  That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

At any rate, for quite a while Owen was the man, and now he is, like Mike, off to the green fields of retirement.

I get that not many people are going to feel sorry for a 22 year old who feels like he is being forced to grow up, it’s just that I have reminders flying at me from all angles as I look through job listings, tryout information, petitions to graduate and questioning emails.

I go to hockey to escape from life’s problems.  For the second time in six months hockey just gave me a reminder of what I was trying to escape.

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