Wesley wasn't a big hitter. He wasn't a big scorer, and never called attention to himself. Wesley came to the rink, played 60 minutes of solid hockey and didn't seek praise or stir up trouble. He was one of those hockey players that gave the sport a clean reputation off the ice too. Glen Wesley was a guy that every team should want in their lineup, even if he's acquired in a trade that made some uneasy, coming at a cost of three Hartford Whalers' first-round draft picks.
But Wesley has proven his worth year in and year out with more than a decade of service for both the Whalers and Hurricanes, including being an instrumental player in the 2006 Stanley Cup championship.
Ultimately, the Hurricanes reacquired one of Boston's picks when they claimed Sergei Samsonov off waivers, bringing the trade for -- and eventual retirement of -- Glen Wesley full circle.
Specifically, there are two plays that stand out when I think of Wesley. One occurred during the second game of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals. The Canes were pitted against a fast Sabres team; a team that could punish opponents with weak defenses. During this particular game, the Hurricanes were down one game in the series and were desperately trying to avoid heading to Buffalo without at least one win under their belt. As with any conference finals, every goal counts. Late in that game, on a shot that trickled through goalie Cam Ward's legs, Wesley showed his veteran awareness and was able to lunge, reaching behind Ward with his stick, stopping the puck inches from the goal line.
Wesley certainly saved a goal, but a fair argument can be made that Wesley saved that game, that series, that season, and the eventual Stanley Cup with that single play.
The next play came in a later season; it was one of the last goals of Wesley's career. It wasn't nearly as important a game, but Glen scored for the first time in 82 games, in overtime, to secure a victory. The look on his face as he scored said it all, he was having a blast, nearly 20 years after joining the League.
Despite not possessing tremendous flair, Wesley amassed more than 1,450 games played; which is quite a feat given the grueling consequences of playing defense in the NHL. In one of Carolina's darkest seasons, 2003-04, Wesley posted a plus-18. In that season, it was good enough for him to crack the top-40 in the NHL, despite only having 6 points in 74 games playing for a team that finished in the bottom third of the League.
Wesley continually sacrificed his body for the game, including a significant jaw injury in 2001. He also blocked his fair share of shots, especially the playoff season when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. I remember more than one game during the 2006 postseason where Wesley blocked multiple shots on one shift; grimacing in pain after each one, but making sure he wasn't a liability.
Wesley was also a player who understood respect. He wasn't -- and isn't -- the type to take advantage of a vulnerable player.
I also have to respect Wesley for coming back for two seasons, after reaching the pinnacle of any player's career, a Stanley Cup. Lesser men would have walked away, but Wesley committed himself to a team that remained largely intact. His final two seasons ended in disappointment, but at the conclusion of his playing career, instead of seeking as much seclusion and anonymity as a 6-foot tall red head can get, Wesley chose to join the Hurricanes and develop defensemen. Having a 20-season veteran, and contemporary of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, stick around to teach draftees the intricacies of the game is never a bad thing.
On his day with Lord Stanley, he chose to bring the Cup to the Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. Instead of spending the day partying exclusively with his friends, or keeping the Cup for himself, Wesley recognized the sacrifice that the men and women of the armed forces worldwide have made for him and everyone else. As the grandson of a recipient of the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, I can appreciate his selfless act of gratitude.
Crossing the boundaries of sport, Wesley played a significant role in mentoring Raleigh native and Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton as he battled drug problems that forced him out of baseball. For those that don't follow Major League Baseball, Hamilton returned to the sport at the top of his game, as an All-Star, and gave Home Run Derby fans a night to remember in the summer of 2008.
As you can probably tell, I need little convincing that Wesley deserves to have his number retired; he is a pillar in the Raleigh community, serving fans on and off the ice. Wesley will continue to hold the respect and admiration of much of the Caniac Nation for many years past Feb. 17, 2009.