Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Steen calls retirement "an emotional time"

Fifteen-year veteran forced to leave NHL because of lingering 
back issues, leaves a Stanley Cup champion with Blues in 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Alexander Steen has never been one to show his emotional side on or off the ice when it pertains to the sport he's played his entire life.

But there's a human element to us all, and it was on display for Steen on Tuesday.
Alexander Steen (left) is interviewed by Sportsnet's
Scott Oake after the Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019.
The 15-year NHL veteran spoke for the first time since the Blues announced his retirement from the NHL last week, and the finality of being forced to call it a career because of a back injury that is causing him discomfort in everyday life now is enough to show the human side to a guy who always showed a stern side of him in the media eye.

The 36-year-old Steen, who had one year and a $5.75 million salary cap hit remaining on a four-year, $23 contract, wanted to prolong his career at least another season and see where things went from there. But multiple levels of degenerative herniated disks in his lumbar spine that allowed him to play through the injury last season and only one game in the Edmonton bubble against the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference First Round, it's an injury that simply wasn't responding to rehabilitation and treatment, and forced the Winnipeg native, who celebrated the birth of son Leon last week, to hang up the blades.

"It’s been an emotional time and obviously difficult with the injury," Steen said, at times fighting back tears. "I think there was time there in Edmonton when I started getting some different, uncomfortable pain where I knew that it was a little bit different of an injury and that it was probably more serious. We worked at it, and it just wasn’t bouncing back like other injuries do with time off or rehab and treatment and other things. That was probably the time I felt like it was the most serious and as that continued after Edmonton, I really tried different things and it just wasn’t coming around. Kind of ultimately brought me to this, where it’s not something you want to do as a player and mentally, you’re still there and your body’s just not allowing you to participate in the same way anymore."

After the season ended for the Blues following a six-game series loss to the Canucks, Steen returned to Sweden to see his two older sons. It was there that he was attemtping to rehab his injury, and in communication with wife Josefine, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, the Blues' medical team and other medical professionals, things never progressed to where Steen could feel good enough about returning for a 16th season.

"There's definitely times where you think this is what the outcome’s going to be but you’re hopeful that it’s not," Steen said. "But I don’t know when the exact ... there’s no exact date when that decision was made. I had good contact with our team doctors and our management, with Army and everybody. With just talking about how I was progressing, if I was, things I was dealing with in everyday life and ultimately, I just couldn’t get my body to respond the way I had been able to before."

And in the end, Steen walks away from a career that spanned 1,018 regular-season NHL games; he finished with 622 points (245 goals, 377 assists) and 91 Stanley Cup Playoff games (15 goals, 21 assists), including winning the Stanley Cup in 2019; he walks away a Stanley Cup champion and one of 348 NHL players to play in 1,000 or more games.
Steen began his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a first-round pick in 2002 and spent three-plus seasons with the Leafs before being traded to the Blues along with Carlo Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak Nov. 24, 2008.

Steen is fourth in Blues history in games (765), fifth in points (496), sixth in assists (301) and ninth in goals (195).

"It’s been emotional, this time, and it's given me a lot of time to sit and reflect on a lot of different things," Steen said. "I’m sure I’ll continue to do so and leading up to this, it was difficult to talk about just the fact that when you talk about it, it feels more finalized and decided, and I wasn’t comfortable doing that. I’m sure there will be more conversations with teammates, past and present and even alumni and people that have gone through this, reflect in that way. I do think, from what I have looked back over is how proud I am of the groups that we’ve had here and it was something I spoke to our team about the other day. Our organization in Toronto, too, was amazing to me when I get to there with the management group and coaching staff that believed in me and gave me a chance and allowed me to get going. To get here and everyone here from our ownership group and management, coaching staff, the city and community ... I know everyone says it, but I really felt at home from the start when I got here. It was just a really good fit for me personality-wise and how everybody was here and the support they gave the team because they don't really know guys like myself who just showed up. Everyone helped from day to day things to longer-term things and it’s always been so easy to live and play here in St. Louis.

"... Going back to the original part of the question, how proud I am of the groups that we were when I was here because from inside the locker room, we always shared that and we didn’t take that lightly. From wanting to play well for our city and our fans and people that support in that way to the alumni that have been here before us and really put the history in the jersey we wore on a nightly basis and how we respected that and wanted to keep moving that forward in a way. I’ll look back on lots of memories of even when we lost in the playoffs and those feelings are tough when there’s an empty void in yourself when you get knocked out of a playoff run. But there's times when we’ve looked at each other after games where we've been knocked out and we gave it what we had. Guys were banged up, injured, we gave each other what we had. I feel we all knew that. We had sort of a quiet confidence about ourselves. That's a Bortuzzo, line by the way. We did that for each other. There was a lot of those things I’ve been reflecting on more than the personal stuff, but obviously with all that comes that great day with the Cup and the city. I’m so grateful that we were able to do that together, everyone. It felt like we all did it together and that I think is such a special feeling."

It took 14 seasons for Steen to reach the pinnacle, and once he did it, the journey, for all intents and purposes, became complete then once he raised the Stanley Cup.

"It was an indescribable moment," Steen said. "For my family too, through my father (Winnipeg Jets great Thomas Steen), I knew how difficult it is to win, to even get the opportunity, to have teams that are capable of competing for it year after year, like we have here. I know we’ve had some upsetting times when we were knocked out early, but we played some tough teams in some tough series. I think it was because my father played 14 years, I don’t know if he felt as if he was knocking on that door, truly, and I felt like when we were here, we were. We were given that opportunity by our ownership group and our management group and that’s something that I haven’t taken lightly while I've played here. It’s been incredible, and to finally get there was, for myself, having lived and played here the amount of years and have the deep, meaningful relationships I have with all the people here, whether its past or present players or in the organization with everyone around, what we do for people in the city, restaurant owners, bar owners, police, firemen, everyone we've gotten to know, I knew how much we all wanted this. When we won, it felt we all did it together. That was what was so, I don’t know what word to use, but that’s why it was such an amazing feeling."

And it was Steen's line, a fourth line comprised of him, Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist, that was a catalyst in the journey to win it all.

"I think we as a group, we just top to bottom knew what we had," Steen said. "Sounds maybe easy to say now knowing the outcome, but I still feel like during the start of the year when we were going through our tough times, it’s an interesting and fun year to reflect on because on how that season went. I still felt we weren’t playing with a lot of confidence at the start of the year, but we had a lot of new bodies and people from the start of the season the year before and we were kind of a confident group. 

"We kept talking and having conversations. It wasn’t showing, but afterwards, we can look back and see that something was building here anyways because we kept continuity and that conversation going. We believed we were a strong team, even though the standings weren’t reflecting it. Then a few things happened and it just kind of snowballed and we caught confidence on the ice. When we had confidence in the room and on the ice, we knew we were a good group and we were going to be tough to beat. In the end, you can’t control the results, you can’t control the outcomes, but I think we knew going into all four series that we were continuingly upping our percentage as far as our chance of winning this thing. Does that make sense? Is that complicated? It's weird when you don't have interaction."

Steen joins the list of a strong Blues alumni group. There's no decision yet whether he'll remain in St. Louis, but all indications appear to lead to that. He's going to in the immediate future do whatever it takes to get his health back to as normal as possible, raise his kids and even still be around the team for the time being, if at all possible. Working with the Blues would be the priority.
Alexander Steen raises the Stanley Cup during the Blues parade in 
downtown St. Louis on Market Street after winning Game 7 in Boston.

"Right now, I mean, up to this point, my focus has been on trying to get back to health again," Steen said. "So we haven’t had a ton of time to look at all those types of things and with my wife being pregnant and going through a pandemic, trying to organize all that stuff has occupied us pretty good. I definitely have an interest in things like that. It’s been emotional because I do love the game, the camaraderie, the relationships that you get through the game and those things don’t change. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer as far as the future and things like that, but it’s definitely something I’m going to look at in the future because it’s that much fun to be a part of an organization like this, for sure.
"Yeah, this is my team."

And as for moving forward, the Blues will be fine, Steen said, despite losing his veteran leadership along with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Jake Allen.

"They’ll do great," Steen said of the Blues. "They have a tight team, a heck of a leadership group of guys and I’m excited to watch and follow and be a part of it a little bit from the outside more than I was before. Nothing’s changing. It’s a high-quality, character room and the guys know what it takes to win and they’ll get prepared and ready. It’s a fun group. Big part of the reason why this has been real emotional because it’s such a good group and I think they’ll do great things."

No comments:

Post a Comment