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Leafs Blueliner Says It's Over

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
HELSINKI (CP) -- Defenceman Robert Svehla insists he is indeed retiring, announcing Thursday that Slovakia's final two games of the world championship this weekend will be his swan song as a professional hockey player.

"My last game will be here at the world championships this weekend," Svehla told a group of Slovak reporters at his team's hotel.

If Svehla sticks to his decision, it's a major blow to the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, who were already weak on defence and now lose their top blue-liner from this past season. The Leafs say they will nevertheless exercise Svehla's $4-million US contract option for next season but Svehla remained adamant about his decision after meeting with agent Rich Winter this week in Helsinki.

"I met twice with Rich this week," Svehla said. "He told me of Toronto's offer but my decision is still to retire."

Winter released a fax Wednesday announcing his client's retirement.

One of the reasons Toronto will exercise Svehla's contract option is to prevent him from playing pro hockey in Europe. Svehla, however, replied `No' Thursday when asked whether he would attempt to do that.

Slovakia, which plays Sweden in the semifinals Friday, cancelled its scheduled practice at Hartwall Arena and gave its players the day off. But Svehla met with reporters before leaving his hotel.

Svehla confirmed he plans to become vice-president of youth development for his home-town club team Dukla Trencin, to whom he gave part of his NHL salary this season.

He says it's all about raising his family in his native country.

"I'm 34 now, my kids are eight and 12 and it feels like it's time to go," Svehla said.

The rugged defenceman made similar noises last summer when still with the Florida Panthers but was convinced by Toronto assistant GM Bill Watters to come and play for the Leafs. Toronto sent defenceman Dmitry Yushkevich to Florida in exchange for Svehla's rights and promptly signed him.

When asked about Svehla's retirement announcement, however, a puzzled Slovakia GM Peter Stastny didn't sound overly convinced.

"I heard that one last year, too," Stastny said Thursday in his team's hotel lobby. "I saw the headlines in the (Slovak) newspaper that the world championship was his farewell to hockey. I hope, and actually, I believe in my heart that he will re-consider."

Stastny believes Svehla is too young to retire and will regret his decision.

"I haven't had a discussion with him about it," Stastny said. "I just think it's the `end of the unsuccessful season syndrome' that's making him think that way right now."

The Svehla camp first announced that the player was considering retirement after the Leafs were knocked out of the post-season by the Philadelphia Flyers. The initial reaction by many was that Svehla was doing it as a ploy to get more money because he has threatened retirement in the past.

But this time it sounds like it's for real.
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