Stevens checks out of NHL

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

National Hockey League forwards can breathe a little easier today.

No longer will Scott Stevens and his trademark piercing stare cut a swath of destruction through helpless opponents, a seemingly endless list of victims that include the likes of Eric Lindros, Ron Francis and Paul Kariya.

When word of Stevens' retirement yesterday circulated, the image immediately came to mind of The Big E crumpled in a heap on the Wachovia Center ice after being hit by Stevens during the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.

But perhaps a more fitting tribute to the future Hall of Famer would be the sight of the Kitchener native hoisting the Stanley Cup three times, a legacy he will treasure.

"I think the game is more mental than physical. You have to be in tremendous shape, but you have to want to do it in your head," Stevens, 41, said. "At this point in my career I didn't think I could put the mental parts there every day, and that's a big part of playing this game."

New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said Stevens, who played more regular-season games than any other defenceman in NHL history, will remain in the organization in some capacity.

Known for his bone-crunching checks, Stevens put the exclamation mark on his career by leading the Devils to the Cup in 2003, a run that included his memorable flattening of Anaheim's Kariya in the final.

What seems remarkable about that is Stevens was battling concussion problems at the time after absorbing a shot on the ear during an earlier round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Maybe I didn't make the right decision at the time (to remain in the lineup)," he said. "But we won the Cup, didn't we?

"That's the way I was brought up to play. I'm old school. I was taught to play through your injuries, and that's what I tried to do."

But the after-effects of that blow would take its toll, causing him to miss the final 44 games of the 2003-04 season.

Stevens insisted yesterday that health issues had nothing to do with his decision to hang up the blades.

TIME WITH KIDS

"I finally felt like (myself) again last November," he said.

Stevens used the lockout to spend more time with his kids and he realized he could live an enjoyable life without playing hockey.

"I guess I was dragging my feet a bit," he said. "But it is kind of a relief. It's just time to move on."

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said the team will be hard-pressed to fill the void left by its longtime captain.

"Scott Stevens is a big part of our hockey club," Brodeur said. "We've got used to not having him around and we really have a sense of that, but life without Scott (Niedermayer), too ... that's two tough blows to take."


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