The Minnesota Wild originals are down to one with the retirement of Wes Walz, one of the most popular players in team history. After taking an indefinite leave of absence one month ago, Walz confirmed on Saturday that he would be retiring after 607 career NHL games, 438 of which were played in a Wild uniform.
Walz sat down with Wild President/General Manager Doug Risebrough at a press conference room filled with media, coaches and former teammates.
"It's with a heavy heart that I announce my retirement as a professional hockey player, and I'm excited about looking forward and moving on with the rest of my life," Walz said in his speech.
Walz said the decision to retire in part began at the end of last season, when the Wild was bounced from the first round of the playoffs by Anaheim, and Walz in particular was unhappy with his play in the series.
"I was more disappointed with my own performance and how I played personally last year, especially in the second half of the season," he said. "But I took the summer and started getting back into training, and I was determined to get back to a level that I expected of myself. I trained like a dog to get back, but over the first two months of the season...it's just really been a struggle for me.
I haven't been able to get back to the level here that I expect of myself," as he pointed to his head.
Walz opened with a speech, and was able to keep from getting too emotional, although he struggled to get through his thank you of Head Coach Jacques Lemaire.
"He's a good man," Walz said of his coach. "He basically took a slab of clay that was nothing and made me into a player that I can be proud of."
Walz also took a breath when talking about the fans in Minnesota.
"The fans," he paused. "The fans are great. Obviously I'm very lucky to play in the greatest state of hockey, and this state and the people in it have truly welcomed my family as one of their own. As a player on the Minnesota Wild hockey team, I wish that fans could experience just once what I felt as a professional hockey player when they would announce my name over the PA system. It's something I'm going to miss. I'm really going to miss that and I'll never forget those feelings."
Risebrough recounted a pair of memories of Walz, including his game-tying goal in Game Seven against Vancouver in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, and that same year when he was nominated for the Selke trophy.
"When I think of Wes, I think of passion and perserverence," said Risebrough. "When we started out, we needed a type of player and a type of person. Wes' name came up. I am so pleased to see how his career finished because he was at the top of his game."
Walz said he didn't know what he would do in the next phase of his life, but the other Wild original, Marian Gaborik had an idea.
"I think he's going to stick with hockey," said Gaborik, who played with Walz more than any other linemate. "He's a great guy, a great person."