It's been a difficult last year-plus for Brent Seabrook.
He underwent a trio of operations as the 2019 calendar turned to 2020, finally taking care of physical ailments he had been playing through for years. He rehabbed during the COVID-19 season pause and returned to the ice for summer training camp, deciding, though, that he wasn't fully ready to return yet -- his sights firmly set on a comeback for the 2020-21 season, though.
His work continued leading up to January's training camp and said he "felt incredible," but then suffered an unexpected setback just before Christmas. He began the year on injured reserve with what was deemed a back ailment, but in reality was much more to live with.
On Friday, the 15-year veteran announced the end of his playing career, ultimately deciding his body could not continue his comeback.
"I skated with the taxi squad Saturday morning and it was tough," he explained. "It was hard to skate and keep up. I was skating for three weeks prior and it was a battle. It never really gave me anything, it never got better. I'd wake up in the morning and feel pretty good. I'd skate for five minutes and it would lock up and I couldn't push or pivot or turn."
"Talking to [Team Physician] Dr. [Michael] Terry Saturday night, I think it confirmed what he already knew about a month ago," Seabrook continued. "In true fashion, I said, 'Ok, well I'm going to see how I feel in the morning and maybe I'll skate.' I woke up the next morning and couldn't really move very well… I don't know if it was a decision I made or my body made for me."
Video: Seabrook reflects on 15 seasons with the Blackhawks
An integral member of the three Stanley Cup runs from 2010-2015, Seabrook amassed 1,114 NHL regular-season games -- all with the Blackhawks. The total ranks third-most in the 94-year history of the Original Six franchise, topped by only Hall of Famer Stan Mikita (1,396) and longtime teammate and friend Duncan Keith (1,162).
"I remember the very first time I met Brent," Blackhawks' President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman said. "It was in the combine draft process way back in 2003... Brent came in, went through the process, asked a lot of questions and when he left, we always do a little debrief, and he had that quality of being a leader. It always stuck in my memory compared to the other interviews. Now, here we are, 18 years later, talking about his career and remembering so many fantastic moments that he was part of.
"He's always talking about what's best for the team. He always put the team ahead of himself… He had some injuries over the years, but he didn't want to miss any time. He wanted to compete and help the team win."
Video: Bowman on Seabrook's career
"As a player, you want to play forever," said head coach Jeremy Colliton, who played alongside Seabrook growing up. "You never want to let that go. At some point, everyone goes through it where they just can't do it anymore. From Seabs' perspective, no one can say he didn't do everything he could to come back. He definitely still had the fire and the hunger to get back and compete and help us win. I don't think he left anything on the table there. As well, I'm not sure he has anything left to prove, either. He's won everything there is to win as a team and, individually, he's been a huge contributor to that team success. Lots to be proud of."
It was the team ahead of Seabrook for 15 straight years. Now, the veteran can truly focus on himself and his family, knowing he left it all -- and then some -- on the ice
"I'm excited for what's next. I love hockey. I love the Blackhawks organization. I'd love to circle around to that in a bit and see how I can help, but I'm not really thinking about that too much right now. I'm thinking about getting back to my family," he said. "My wife has been back in Canada dealing with three kids and four dogs by herself for the last three months and she's been incredible for me. She's been very strong and doing a great job. Just excited to get back and see them."
"I'm incredibly proud of my career," Seabrook added. "I got to play with a tremendous group of players for the best organization in sports. When I first got here, we weren't the Blackhawks that you see now or through the early part of the decade. It was fun to be part of the group that brought this franchise back up to the top and I wouldn't change anything. I gave it all I had."
Video: Colliton on Seabrook's career