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Hedican finding new life with Ducks

by Eric Stephens /
For those who thought Bret Hedican had played his last hockey game, well, no one informed him of such a development.

As it relates to the ice, Hedican is alive and well and wearing an Anaheim Ducks sweater. Sixteen seasons, four NHL teams, two Olympics and one Stanley Cup title were not enough for the longtime defenseman to skate off into retirement.

At 38, the St. Paul, Minn., native thinks he has more to give.

"I still feel like I have some game left in me," Hedican said. "I came off a good year last year where I felt like I contributed. I really moved the puck and had a good season.

"I just didn't want to go out with me saying, 'No, I still have some gas left in the tank.'"

Hedican ended a six-season run with the Carolina Hurricanes this summer, a run which included the highest moment of his professional career -- hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2006, his third Final appearance, following a seven-game victory against the Edmonton Oilers.

It was easy for some to conclude that the former St. Cloud State star had served his time well. Glen Wesley, the respected veteran defenseman, had called it a day after 20 seasons and Hedican, who had just one 80-game season in his career, was thought to be following right behind after being a regular visitor to the training room the last few seasons.

Simply put, how much more of a price was Hedican willing to pay to keep suiting up? One could only wonder that when he decided to take his free-agent status, pack up his family and head out west, it may have been time to move on to another avenue in his life.

"In a lot of ways, people knew I was leaving Carolina and I think they took it as a retirement thing," Hedican said. "For me, it was more where my kids are at that stage where they want to get into school on the West Coast. There were a lot of reasons why."

Hedican and his wife, Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, relocated with their two daughters to the Bay Area to be closer to her family. But he also kept skating. And at this stage of his career, he was determined to find a situation that would fit the things he wanted -- a team that would be close to home and one that could compete for a championship.

As opening night arrived Oct. 9, however, Hedican still was at home. Maybe the end had come.       

"I had opportunities," he said. "Several teams were calling me, making me offers to sign with them. Some of them didn't work out. I wanted to be on the West Coast where my wife can get my kids to me as soon as possible or as easily as possible.

"When a few things fell through, I kind of thought maybe this is my time to turn the page. But I kept my body in great shape and felt like my training was going fine. And my brain was still saying, 'Hey, I can still be out there.'"

It turned out there was a need for him in Anaheim. The Ducks had traded defensemen Sean O'Donnell and Mathieu Schneider during training camp and weren't satisfied with what veteran Ken Klee was giving them.

They still had stars Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, minutes-eater Francois Beauchemin, late-bloomer Kent Huskins and newly acquired Steve Montador, but there was a hole that needed to be filled.

Through some combination of scouting and behind-the-scenes work from Hedican's representatives, a new hockey home was found.

"Hedican was kind of a guy that dropped out of the sky," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "There wasn't really anyone in pursuit. His name kind of got floated to us and there was a match."

The Ducks were a team Hedican long had admired.

"I'd always had my eye on this team, thinking what an opportunity that would be, never realizing that I would get a chance because of the defensive corps they had," he said. "You look at Pronger, you look at Huskins, you look at Niedermayer, you've got Montador, you had O'Donnell when he was here. They just had a good six guys. There was no way I could fit in. For me, I never even thought of this happening.

"When it finally did happen, I thought, 'Wow, what an opportunity.'"

Since joining Anaheim on Oct. 23, Hedican has averaged 15:26 of ice time in 20 games, and chipped in his first goal with his new club, a self-described knuckleball of a shot that got past Los Angeles Kings goalie Erik Ersberg on Nov. 16.

Signing Hedican proved to have even more value after Beauchemin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Nov. 14 against Nashville.

"I think with Bret Hedican, his No. 1 asset is his skating ability," Carlyle said. "He's a mobile, puck-moving defenseman. It's taken him as much time as it's taken us to understand what kind of team we are, what kind of system we want to play, how we want to play it and what his responsibilities are."

Hedican said it's been a challenge to learn a new defensive system after joining the team in the middle of the season, but added, "I'm making the passes that I normally used to make. I'm used to feeling the way I do on my skates, as well. The game is starting to come to me, as well. I'm starting to calm down and making plays."

The statistic that means the most to the veteran is the 1,000th game he played, Nov. 21 in St. Louis, the place where his NHL career began after being drafted in the fourth round in 1988 by the Blues. Only 14 American-born defensemen have reached that milestone.

"It means a lot in the fact that you've been through a lot," said Hedican, who was honored by the Ducks in a pre-game ceremony Nov. 28. "It means you've persevered on nights where you didn't think you could play. You've played hurt, you've played sick. You've played with confidence, you've played with no confidence. You've reached every pinnacle and you've reached every low.

"That's what 1,000 games mean. It means all those things. Life changes, as well. I got married and got two girls. In that process of 1,000 games, I'd become a man ... in a weird way. A man, a husband and a father."
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