At 39, retirement looms for two former Wild stars

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 10:44 PM

 The storied NHL careers of Andrew Brunette and Brian Rolston could be over.

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Andrew Brunette.

Photo: Jeffrey Thompson, Star Tribune file

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The special ones, like Nicklas Lidstrom, get a news conference. The vast majority of players don't even get a news release.

It seems unjust, but as is often the case in the NHL, retired players simply vanish from the league without ceremony, fanfare or even a goodbye.

With the lockout over and most teams filled to the brim, more than 50 players remain unsigned. Most won't play again, and that could include former Wild fixtures Andrew Brunette and Brian Rolston.

"There's going to be a lot of guys in March, you're going to say, 'Geez, you know what, I haven't seen that guy,' and it's going to be because he retired -- whether he wanted to or not," said former NHLer Ray Ferraro, who scored 408 goals.

"I think I just stopped playing. I must have filed retirement papers. I don't even know. Honestly, I don't even know. There was no statement for me to make. I just stopped playing. Most of us just fade into the sunset."

Among others whose playing careers could be over are Minnesotan Jason Blake, Mike Knuble, Jason Arnott and Brendan Morrison and former Wild players Dwayne Roloson and Sean O'Donnell.

Brunette and Rolston, both 39, understand the reality.

While they're not ready yet to officially hang up their skates, "it's more than likely," said Rolston, who played 1,256 games.

"I've had a great career," Rolston said. "You play for 17 years, I'm very content. At the same time you have that feeling like, 'Am I really done?' You've been doing it so long, you feel like you have to go back and do something. But I'm happy if this is the end of my career. I've faced the reality of that."

Both would be willing to consider the right situation, but Brunette, who played 1,110 games, said his decision to call it quits "could come up quick."

"I'm not going to be someone who hangs around waiting for an injury. I don't know how many teams are looking for a 39 1/2-year-old guy who can't skate," Brunette said with a chuckle.

"I don't know how much interest there is. But if there was some, it would be interesting. If there's not, I'm OK with that."

Rolston topped 30 goals all three seasons in Minnesota, ranking fifth in franchise history with 96 goals and 202 points in 241 games. He and Marian Gaborik are the only 30-goal scorers in Wild history. Rolston's 15 power-play goals, 34 power-play points and 305 shots in 2006-07 are single-season team records.

Brunette has scored the second-most goals in Wild history (119), the second-most power-play goals (55), the fourth-most assists (202) and the fourth-most points (321), and played the fourth-most games (489).

"I don't think Bruno was appreciated outside of real hockey people because his game was so subtle," said Ferraro, Brunette's teammate with the Atlanta Thrashers.

"To play 1,000 games starting [at 22 years old] was all skill and durability and toughness without fighting -- but toughness to be able to withstand the punishment of where he played the game.

"And as a teammate, honestly, no better.

"He was an absolute rink rat. He loved being at the rink, he loved all the little games after practice. In Atlanta, he organized a 3-on-3 league after practice, and he was commissioner, and it was phenomenal. And he left a legacy of fantasy football leagues on every team he's been on."

Like Ferraro, an analyst for Canada's TSN, Brunette is interested in television. But he worries he will miss being part of a team because of his competitive drive. So he might look at working for a team.

Knowing Brunette, Ferraro believes the first part of retirement will be difficult. Ferraro remembers sitting in the stands at a Vancouver Canucks home game with his wife, Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato, the first month of his retirement in 2002.

"They came out of the tunnel, and the excitement in the building and the music playing, I started to cry, like overcome with emotion of the fact I'd never get to do that again," Ferraro said. "And I think Bruno would be the same way."

If he retires, Brunette said he will look back most fondly at the "friendships of the guys I played with. That, to me, was most special of all of it."

Rolston said he would look back at his time with the Wild.

"It was my best years in the league," Rolston said. "I loved playing for Jacques [Lemaire]. He was the best coach of my career. And to play in front of those fans, they were incredible.

"I was just texting with [former New Jersey teammate] Zach [Parise]. He will so love playing there, just the energy in the building compared to what he's used to."

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