SAN JOSE - Owen Nolan was as tough as they’ve come in the game of hockey.
But that didn’t make it any easier when time came to make the inevitable decision to call it a career.
Nolan, who epitomized an NHL power forward with his blend of skill, scoring and toughness over his 18-year career, officially announced his retirement Tuesday in San Jose, where he spent eight seasons of his career and enjoyed his biggest success.
“I guess I’ve known this day was here for a while. When your body won’t do what your mind and your heart is willing to do, it’s time to move on,” Nolan said while fighting back the tears. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Over his 1,200 regular-season games with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, the San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Phoenix Coyotes, the Calgary Flames and the Minnesota Wild, Nolan collected 422 goals, 885 points and 1,793 penalty minutes.
He spent the 2010-11 hockey season in Switzerland and attended the Vancouver Canucks camp on a tryout basis last fall, but he didn’t receive a contract from the Stanley Cup finalists.
A few months later, Nolan — who’ll celebrate his 40th birthday next week — decided it was time to call it a day.
Even with all the time to prepare for it, Nolan teared up.
“It’s tough to give up something you love doing,” Nolan said, with several former teammates in attendance, including Flames captain Jarome Iginla and several current Sharks. “I think I knew this time was already here. It might have been a while ago, but the heart and the mind just wants to keep doing it. We’re all programmed to do (your best), so to gear down and accept you’re not what you once were … I had to accept it and move on.”
It was quite the run.
Selected first overall by the Nordiques in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Nolan collected 42 goals and 73 points in just his second season and surpassed the 30-goal standard in five of his first seven campaigns.
He was traded to the Sharks on Oct. 26, 1995, and became the leader of the west coast club. Named team captain early in the 1998-99 season, he set career highs the next year with 44 goals and 84 points.
He was selected to the all-star team five times (who can forget his hat-trick goal in the 1997 all-star game, pointing to the net while barrelling in on goalie Dominik Hasek then zipping it home?) and was part of Canada’s 2002 Olympic gold-medal team.
All the while, Nolan was a physical force.
“A power forward, to me, is much like being a running back in the NFL,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. “You hand out a lot of punishment. You take a lot of punishment. But to have the ability as long as he played, at the level (he did) and accomplish what he’s done, comes from the fortitude within you.
“To accomplish that in this game is something special.”
During his one season in Calgary, 2007-08, Nolan played his 1,000th game and netted his final hat-trick against the Sharks. He also collected five points in the seven-game playoff series between the Flames and his former team.
As for the future, the avid hunter and fisherman plans to spend time with his family in San Jose, where he has several business interests, but may be soon back involved in hockey.
“It’s in my blood,” Nolan added.
“I think at some point I’d like to get back into it.”