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Goodbye to the game I love

Carl Gunnarsson pens poignant personal goodbye to hockey following 12-year NHL career

by Carl Gunnarsson / St. Louis Blues

She is a thing of beauty, isn't she?

The game of hockey swept me off my feet the first time I saw her. It was love at first sight when my dad introduced me to her about 30 years ago. Looking back at how it all started and the long road it's been, I still can't believe that I was one of the few lucky ones to make it to the NHL.

Countless hours at the rink - and countless memories - it's all been about having fun with friends at practice and games, falling in love with the game each time we step on the ice.

I've never been a star or the best player on any of the teams I've been on, not even as a kid. And if you ask anyone who saw me play growing up if they thought I'd one day play in the NHL, I don't think anyone could honestly say yes. Me included. It just seemed so far away.

So I had my mind set on whatever was the next step. Making the next team, getting a regular spot in the lineup, making a difference on the ice. And when you put your head down and work hard, sometimes when you look up you find things have gone by so fast, and all of a sudden you're where you dreamt of being.

That's what it felt like when I stepped on the ice to play my first NHL game, like I opened my eyes after a time of riding along on a wave of success. It all happened so fast. From not having a regular spot in the lineup back home in the SHL, to playing for Tre Kronor in the World Championship, to signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, to playing my first NHL game. All in the matter of two years.

And then I find myself in St. Louis, a city I didn't know much about. It was nothing like Toronto where I had spent the previous five years. Toronto, where everything revolves around hockey, had a lively downtown and it was all centered around there. St. Louis seemed to be more spread out and nothing really going on downtown, except sporting events of course. I knew it was a baseball-loving city but didn't know how much it loves hockey. The fans here surprised me and really showed how much they love their Blues, especially during the playoffs.

It grew on me. My wife and I found that it is an amazing place to raise a family. Our two kids were born here, and the people of St. Louis made us feel more than welcome. We are truly proud to have been able to call St. Louis our home for the last seven years.

The game is also generous as no other, giving way more than you'd expect. Friendships where you least expect them, the excitement of playing in front of a full arena, the feeling of practicing in a freezing, old-school barn, the joy of just having fun with your friends on an outdoor rink are all things you can't get from anyone else. I owe all of that to her and I'm forever grateful for it.

But she's not always that easy to love.

One of the best times in my life was preceded by a year of struggle. Roughly 14 months before I hoisted the glorious Stanley Cup I had knee surgery going in to the last year of my contract. It was a long road getting back and when I eventually did, I found myself battling yet another injury. I found a way to push through and so did our team that year, going on our unforgettable Cup run. To end a year like that - by winning what we all dream of - was beyond my wildest imagination. Crying tears of joy with my wife and with my brother on the ice after Game 7 is something that will never be erased from my memory. And to personally have had an impact with a game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Final will always make me pinch my arm in disbelief.

To have that kind of personal success has never been important to me. I've always been taught to put the team first and to me that is the best thing about hockey - the team. The bonds created between teammates is something you can't find anywhere else and is the thing I'm gonna miss the most now that I've decided to retire.

As I hang up my skates for the last time I'm not sure what the future holds for me. But I know I'll love the game of hockey, no matter how hard she makes it.

So I'd like to thank her, the game of hockey, for letting me love her and for all that she has given.

I'd like to thank all the fans, friends, staff, coaches, teammates and everyone I've crossed paths with during my time with her.

And to my family - none of this would've been possible without you. I love you.

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