TORONTO – Paul Kariya jokes that once Nov. 20 rolls around, you won’t see him again. But is he joking?
Privacy is a currency Kariya holds dear in the seven years since he played his final NHL game with St. Louis. The former star and longtime captain of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim has simply lived a life outside hockey, with surfing and mountain-based sports becoming his passion.
It is a life that filled with happiness, especially so since the anger has subsided after a sixth concussion forced him to pull the plug on a prolific career that wasn’t supposed to end at that time. Surely not end in that fashion.
So it has been is a sight to not only see Kariya out in the public eye again but see an ever-present smile on his face in the time leading to up his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame and this weekend’s accompanying festivities that culminate with the official ceremony Monday night.
If those concussions hadn’t put his focus on recovering his health, Kariya might still be playing regularly. He certainly would have had more years in the league he once commanded. Trim and fit as he was in his salad days, the 43-year-old ate up every moment of Sunday’s Legends Classic at Air Canada Centre.
It was the first time Kariya had been on skates since he retired. Getting back on them was like riding a bike. Cobbling together equipment was harder – he still had his helmet from the Blues days – but his goal against longtime Ducks teammate Jean-Sebastien Giguere showed the slick hands never left him.
“It was nice to see Paul out there with a smile on his face,” said Giguere, who was playfully mugged by the winger after a glove save against him.
Kariya started out opposing sides with Teemu Selanne as it was Mark Messier’s Canada-based team against Jari Kurri’s World squad. But for the second and final 20 minutes, it was Kariya who switched jerseys and joined up with Selanne.
There was no other way it should have played out. The two, stars that made the Mighty Ducks relevant in their early days, are going into the Hall side by side.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason,” said Lanny McDonald, the Hall’s chairman and himself a member as a player. “I’m not sure why Kariya wasn’t in before. For them to go in together, being the dynamic duo they’ve been for years and years. It’s pretty cool and probably fitting.”
“Perfect,” Kurri said. “There’s no question about that. That’s the way it should be.”