Rucchin eyes hanging 'em up

Steve Rucchin will decide whether he will continue playing in the NHL. (Ken Wightman, Sun Media)

Steve Rucchin will decide whether he will continue playing in the NHL. (Ken Wightman, Sun Media)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Like everything else Steve Rucchin has done in life, his retirement announcement will probably be quiet and fly under the radar.

It's just the way he is. No matter how much success the former Western Mustang in the National Hockey League -- and it was extensive -- he's one of those guys who counts his blessings every day for the career he's had.

But Rucchin, now 36, isn't sure if it is over yet.

As a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, he missed all of this season with an injury he sustained in February 2007. He'll see a specialist in Denver later this month to be re-assessed and although his return to the game is a long shot, he hasn't closed the door completely.

"It's not 100 per cent yet," said Rucchin, in town yesterday to promote a charity golf tournament for the London Regional Cancer Program and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

"I injured the nerve in my eye. It's the kind of injury that often happens in car accidents, a sort of trauma to the head. The nerve affects the movement of your eye. If your eyes aren't working in co-ordination with each other, it makes things tough. It definitely affects me when I'm working out because of the stress on the body. It's tough to play a sport like hockey with its high speeds.

"It's getting better. It's going to be a pretty important talk, but I don't want to risk my future health."

Rucchin has battled through a great deal during his career. Some say it's a miracle he even played in the NHL.

He took a different road to a pro career that has spanned 14 years with three teams and earned him the reputation as guy who would leave everything on the ice and do whatever he could to win.

He played 735 games, with 171 goals and 489 points. He had 17 playoff points, including an overtime winner to send the Anaheim Mighty Ducks into the Stanley Cup final, and was a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy.

"There's not a day that goes by, even now, that I don't think about how fortunate I was," Rucchin said. "I think I was just at the right place at the right time, coming out of Western to go to Anaheim, a team in their second year in the league. There was opportunity there. I could have gone somewhere else and been buried in the minors outright.

"I had confidence in my ability. You have to be able to play to make that jump."

It was a jump of Olympian proportions.

Born in Thunder Bay, Rucchin grew up in London. At 15, he decided he'd had enough of minor hockey and opted to only play for the Banting high school team. At the end of that season, he played a few games with the junior D Thamesford Trojans.

From there, he was off to Western to study biology and play hockey. A part-time scout for Anaheim saw him and the Ducks took a flyer on Rucchin in the 1994 supplemental draft.

The kid who took the unconventional route played half a season with the IHL's San Diego Gulls, made the jump to the Ducks after Christmas and has been an NHL fixture since.

"At the end of the day, the bottom line was to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches. I just want to do what it takes to be a team player," Rucchin said. "That's what I wanted to accomplish. Whether I did or not, that's what I set out to do."

He's played with a lot of good players, including Paul Kariya, Adam Oates and Steve Thomas. Rucchin was a key to the 2003 run to the final, which the Ducks lost in seven games to New Jersey.

Those who have followed his career knew how good he'd become. But to the casual observer, he was a revelation, flying under the radar again.

It's something that never bothered him.

"In some respect, it might have been easier. I think coming where I came from and going to the West Coast, there's not a lot of publicity out there. The hockey world is really on the Eastern seaboard and the Eastern time zone. You can't even get a score in the newspaper until two days later. Who really cares about a score from Sunday that you don't see until Tuesday afternoon. You really do not feel like you're part of the NHL when you are on the West Coast. But I wouldn't have traded that situation for anything. I can't stress how fortunate I was to have been able to play there for 10 years."

The last year has been difficult. The treatment for his injury is time and rest. He said he can come to terms with facing the end of his career after playing all these years, rather than if it had happened during his first three.

"But I really miss it. Guys say you miss the locker-room but I miss the competition. I wasn't expecting that at all. The hardest part was being in a suit and watching the guys go out for the start of the game. I didn't watch much."

So while he waits to see what news the doctor brings, he's spending time here with his dad and friends. He has a place in California but still considers London home. He's working on making the golf tournament a success so he can turn the money into something good in memory of his brother Larry, who died at 35 of colon cancer in June 2002.

No matter what the immediate future holds, Rucchin knows his love of the game will only be enhanced by the road he took to play it.

"Just stepping on the ice for the game . . . that's the highlight for me. Every time you step on the ice you realize how lucky you are. You just always want to be in a game. You could play 82 games in 82 days and that would have been perfect for me."]


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