As I prepare for another training camp in Anaheim, it's crazy to think I'm getting ready for a third stint with the Ducks. It's even stranger to think that just a few months ago, I thought I was finished playing in the NHL.
Back in June, I had just finished my second season with the Colorado Avalanche, and I had one year left on my contract. My mind was focused on getting ready for next season in Denver and making it a good one, because last year was really disappointing for me and the team. But then I got the call from Avs GM Joe Sakic telling me they were buying out my contract and we were parting ways. I was really disappointed because I didn't want it to end that way.
Suddenly I was a free agent, and I had about a half dozen NHL teams calling who were interested in me. You obviously get excited when you hear teams want you, but I wasn't really that interested because I wasn't willing to move my family to a new place for just one year. Instead, I actually had the mindset that I wasn't going to play in the NHL after 13 seasons in the league. I thought I might just retire in Denver, do some hunting and fishing and mountain biking, spend more time with my family, help the kids out with their hockey teams and just be a dad.
At one point I got a call from Marty Brodeur, who is now working for Team Canada, and he asked me about possibly playing in some tournaments for them in Finland, Russia and Switzerland and then maybe having a chance to play for them in the Olympics in 2018. I was really excited about that because I've never played in the Olympics before, and that could have been a great experience.
That was my plan until the Ducks called and gave me a chance to come back to Anaheim. Ducks Director of Player Development Todd Marchant, who was my teammate for years in Anaheim, actually called me first and asked me to think about it. It was August 17 and our kids were starting school on the 28th in Denver, so we were just about to leave our summer home near Montreal to drive to Colorado.
I thought about it all night and didn't get much sleep. Being a professional athlete is a great life, but it can be difficult on families when you go to a new team. In addition to finding a place to live, your kids have to find some new friends, get used to a new school, connect with new teammates and everything else that comes to moving to an unfamiliar place. So when the opportunity with the Ducks came to us, I sat down and talked with all of them - my wife Marie Claude, my 11-year-old son Samuel, my 8-year-old daughter Emily and my 5-year-old son Cedric - to see what they thought about the possibility.
They were all excited about it, and Samuel especially didn't even hesitate for a second. As soon as I asked him he said, "Oh yeah, absolutely. The Ducks have a good team and I have a lot of my old friends out there." He got lucky in that he was able to get back on the same hockey team in Orange County he used to play on, and he has a lot of his buddies in school and in the neighborhood that he gets to reunite with. The same goes for Emily, who was really excited about seeing all of her friends out here again.
I called Todd back the next day and told him to have Ducks GM Bob Murray call me to discuss the contract situation and what he wants from me. We talked on that Saturday and agreed on a deal right away. My family and I were all really excited to come back here and have a chance to win again, to end my career on a good note. I was really excited, and I don't think I could have asked for a better opportunity at this point.
I left Montreal on a Sunday to drive my truck out to our house in Denver and made it all the way to Nebraska before I stopped for the night. The next day as I was driving, I got an email with the Ducks contract attached to it. I actually stopped off the highway at a hotel in Omaha just to print it out, sign it and get it back to the Ducks. I made it to Denver that night to meet up with my family, who flew out from Montreal.
The next day we found a fully furnished rental house in Tustin, just down the street from where we lived the last time I played for the Ducks, and we were able to sell our house in Denver pretty quickly. We signed the kids up for school that week as well, and my family flew out to Orange County that weekend in time for the kids to start on Monday. I stayed in Denver to train for the rest of the summer (including a lot of mountain biking), and I made the drive out to California during the first week of September.
For us, it was really hard to leave Anaheim two years ago because being here is what I've always wanted for my family. It didn't work out at the time, and it was really hard to leave here, but I was fortunate to end up in a city like Denver. We had two great years and made a lot of friends and really enjoyed the outdoors, the mountains and all the things you can do there. It's really a beautiful place, and we really enjoyed our two years there.
But hockey-wise, it was difficult because of how much the team struggled. The first year we missed the playoffs by a few points, but last year we finished last in the league, and it was really tough mentally to stay positive. Putting that behind me and coming to a team that contends for a Cup every year is a great opportunity.
It's crazy how fast the time has gone by since I first came to Anaheim as a 25-year-old in 2005. We made the Western Conference Final that first season and then won the Stanley Cup a year after that. We had some good teams in the years that followed but couldn't get back there, and it really makes you appreciate how special it is and how difficult it is to win a Cup.
On that Cup team, I was paired with one of the greatest defensemen of all time in Scott Niedermayer, and I was able to learn so much from him. He definitely helped make me a better player. Now it's funny to think that I'm the grizzled veteran that a lot of the young defensemen will look to for leadership and guidance.
And what I can teach them is mostly to keep an even keel. It's a long season with a lot of adversity, and it's important to remember not to let the highs get too high and the lows get too low. You want to do everything you can health-wise and mentally to make sure we're ready to go come playoff time.
To be back in Anaheim now with a chance to finish my career on a great note is an opportunity I'm really excited about, and I can't wait to get started. It's funny, but when I made the 14-hour drive from Denver to California last week and finally arrived in Orange County, I got off the freeway and headed down Tustin Ranch Road - near where we used to live and close to where our new house is. I smiled because I couldn't believe I was back here.
It felt just like being home again.