New Jersey Devils captain Bryce Salvador announced his retirement this week.
The 39 year old missed much of the last two NHL seasons with a debilitating back injury and previously suffered from serious concussion problems.
"I could just see that the body wasn't responding as it used to and it was just getting more and more difficult to stay healthy. And the position that I was in, being the captain, this last season it was really tough to be the team leader and not be present. So I just kind of realized that even though I can play, I feel I can play and come back, I just didn't know if I'd be able to make it a full season. Knowing that, I just kind of really said, 'Does it make sense to put myself in that situation when the mind is still there and I feel good, but maybe the body is telling me it's time?'"
Salvador played 13 seasons in the NHL with the Blues and the Devils. He played 786 NHL games, scoring 24 goals and 86 assists. No, offense was not his forte. He was a stay-at-home defender who excelled at blocking shots and deflecting passes.
He was actually a sixth round pick (138th overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 1994. He had a strong junior career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, finishing in 1997 as the Western Hockey League Champions. But he never signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead Salvador signed with the St. Louis Blues organization in the summer of 1997. The Blues were likely looking for depth on the farm team, and that is exactly where the defensive defenseman played for the first three seasons of his career.
But Salvador worked tirelessly at improving his game and made the Blues as a full time player from 2001 through 2008. He was then traded to New Jersey where he continued on for seven more years.
Back injuries aside, Salvador's toughest season had to be the 2010-11 season which he missed entirely due to concussion problems.
Salvador shared the experience in a must-read feature at The Players' Tribune
The slap shot hit me in the face with 53 seconds left in the game. I could actually feel the force of the puck go all the way through my head and then out my right ear. My teammates on the New Jersey Devils immediately rushed over to where I was slumped on the ice. I looked up, bleeding badly from my face, and saw all these blurry red jerseys standing over me. Their mouths were moving, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. All I heard was a high-pitched ringing.
When I got home that night to my wife and kids, my ears were still ringing. I could barely hear what my wife was saying. Two days later, we played the Rangers. I played 20 minutes and had an assist."
But, in true Salvador fashion, he turned that negative experience into a positive.
"When I missed the whole season, as funny as it might sound, that's kind of a little bit when I just saw what retirement was about," Salvador said. "So ever since I missed that season I realized it was going to end, and I think going through that year off and then playing every game I played after missing that year I looked at it as just being fortunate."
He also used the concussion as motivation to return to the ice. He want to play until his children were old enough to understand that their dad played in the National Hockey League.
"I achieved my goal of coming back so that my boys would be able to remember me as an NHL player, and now I am content to step away on my own terms," Salvador wrote in The Players' Tribune. "Here I am, 786 regular season and 74 playoff games later, retiring as a captain. No matter what anybody says, they can’t take this away from me."
He did return and helped the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, before eventually bowing to the Los Angeles Kings.
Salvador announced he will continue representing the Devils in retirement as he works with youth hockey programs in New Jersey.
"I want to pass on the lessons of perseverance, sacrifice, and determination that I was fortunate enough to have learned while playing hockey. If I believe in one thing in life, it’s that hockey is a force for good. It can change kids’ lives and give them an outlet so that no matter what’s going on with them personally, they can get on the ice for a few hours and forget about everything but that little black piece of rubber."