Thursday, June 24, 2021

Gunnarsson retires, ending 12-year run in NHL, including past seven with Blues

Defenseman had final season cut short with torn ACL, leaves game as Stanley 
Cup champion, exits steady career just like he came in, with little fanfare

ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson made his exit from the NHL on Wednesday in a sort of manner in which he came into it and played throughout his 12-year career: without a lot of fanfare.

Gunnarsson, 34, announced that he is retiring from the NHL, ending his career, including the last seven seasons in St. Louis with the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson celebrated his day with the Stanley Cup in
his hometown of Orebro, Sweden.

It was simple, straight to the point, answer a few questions and done.

Simple, just like his steady career.

"It's just been growing in my mind for a little bit and I felt like this was the right time," the defenseman said via Zoom. "Proud and happy of my career and what I've done. I just felt like this is a good time right now. Body's been taking a beating a little bit too. I feel pretty confident and happy about the decision. ... Last year was not as we wanted or as I wanted, no fans. Kind of a weird season and the injury happened. I just felt like this was my time. I'm happy with the decision right now. Feels good right now, but might be different when the season starts. Right now, I feel pretty confident about it like it was the right move to do."

Gunnarsson, who will forever be famously known as the one who clinched the Blues' first-ever Stanley Cup Final win with his overtime goal in Game 2 of the 2019 final against the Boston Bruins and the one who had a conversation with coach Craig Berube at "the pisser" between the third and overtime, telling his coach he needs one more chance, saw his career end unceremoniously on Feb. 22 against the Los Angeles Kings when he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Gunnarsson, who could have been an unrestricted free agent July 28, has been rehabbing and said he's "on pace" for where his rehab should be in his schedule but is stepping away at a time he feels is right. He steps away having played in 629 regular-season games and 68 in the playoffs, finishing with a combined 31 goals and 114 assists.

"It's been good. I'm super happy," Gunnarsson said. "Twelve years in the league has been amazing, super proud of that. I never saw myself really getting into the league, but when I finally did, it's been crazy and to stick around for 12 years, it's something to be proud of and something no one can take away from me and to top it off with winning a Cup too, it feels pretty darn good."

Gunnarsson was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with a 2014 fourth round pick (Ville Husso) for defenseman Roman Polak on June 28, 2014 because at the time, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wanted someone that could use the middle of the ice from the blue line, and a guy that could make quick, direct passes and get in on the attack.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got here," Gunnarsson said. "There was a different feel from Toronto to here team-wise. St. Louis was a top team in the West, had no issues going to the playoffs. It was kind of weird coming here with that mindset of the whole team, but that was great. It was great for me to come to a winning team and it's been nice to be part of that group to push it even further and took that last step too."

Gunnarsson, who spent five of his six playoff seasons in a Blues jersey, evened the series with the Bruins up when his shot from the blue line on a delayed penalty was a dart through traffic that beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. It came after he nearly won the game in regulation late in the third period but his shot hit the post. While he was using the men's room, Berube came in for a bathroom break of his own and Gunnarsson told him 'I just need one more chance.'

He got it, and boy, did he make the most of it and will be forever remembered by it, even though people in town don't ask him about it.

"I saw the refs had a hand up and had a delayed penalty," Gunnarsson recalled. "Don't get too many chances to stick around for that, power play's coming up. And that all mixes in with the videos and pics I've seen with it afterwards. It's kind of a blur. Coming into the locker room, long story with Berube. It's kind of a blur, but what you remember and what you've seen on video. It's just a good feeling.

"... No, people leave me alone. That's nice. I watched it. It snuck up on me on the anniversary, or whatever you want to call it, a couple weeks ago. I see people just post it online and I get tagged on Twitter and Instagram. That's always nice. I didn't once just sit down and watch it, but other than that, I just get tagged and you kind of take a peek at it. It's a nice, good feeling and throws you back to what it was like that whole run. It's a good memory to have, all those videos and clips. It's nice to have in the bank. In 10 years or whatever, show your kids and they'll know what dad did."

Gunnarsson had ample amount of time since his injury to ponder his future, and enlisted in fellow Swede Alexander Steen, who retired himself prior to last season, and his father, Bjorn, among others.

"I talked to Steener when he was going through it for a bit," Gunnarsson said. "With his injuries, tough for him to continue. For me, that process has been going on for a bit too. It's been nice chatting with him about it, going through what the next stage is, what the next step is. Just throwing ideas out there and just going back and forth, moving back to Sweden or not, all that kind of stuff. It's been great to have someone to talk to about it.

"We've been talking about it for a bit. Before I decided this was it, I've been talking with (his father) about maybe it's coming up in a couple years and all that, but yeah, it was kind of a natural process. He could kind of feel it too that it was coming. It wasn't like the final day where I was like, 'Yeah, this is it,' and then it was a big thing. We were chatting about it for a bit and eventually it was like ... he knew about it. Nothing crazy."

Nothing crazy ... just like Gunnarsson's career. Simple and effective. When he played simple, when you didn't notice him on the ice, looked at the stat sheet, Gunnarsson's name typically had solid stats to go along with it.

But as the off-season moved along and the thought of free agency loomed, with a wife and two young kids, the thought of relocating at the end of his career when the Blues would more than likely not renew his contract would be too much.

Or would it?

"Not really," Gunnarsson said. "I mean it's a little bit of a factor, but not a big one. I felt like if I could have played and had to move for a year or two, so be it. That's the game, that's what you sign up for. I don't think that would have been a problem. Everything goes through your mind once you kind of decide you're going to retire, if it's worth it. You want to stay in, is that worth it? That was not the tipping point or anything. I would have been fine with that, but I just decided that this is the time."

It's time to hang the skates up, and it's also time to decide where to live out the rest of one's life. Would it be here or a move back to the homeland in Sweden?

"I'm going to move back," Gunnarsson said. "Going to be here all summer, but I'm going to move back to Sweden. Once there, I'm not sure what the future holds. I'm sure I'll figure something out eventually. I'm going to take a little time off and chill for a little bit and then we'll see."

The Blues could perhaps some day have a use for Gunnarsson, maybe in a European scouting role or a player development role because there will come a time when he will want to get involved again in some fashion or form.

"I'm not going to drop hockey totally," Gunnarsson said. "Right now, I don't see myself getting back into the game any time soon. I want to take a little time off and just kind of hang back and see how that feels. It might be different too when the season starts. I might get that itch back and just want ti get back into it, but one way or another, I'll be connected to hockey. Whether it's going to be coaching or something else, I have no idea. We'll see."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson retired Wednesday from the NHL after
12 seasons, including the last seven in St. Louis.

What will Gunnarsson miss about St. Louis most, and what did he take pride in the most?

"The heat in July. I'm kidding," he said. "I don't know how to put it, but everyone that lives in St. Louis or comes here, it's a very generous city in a way that taking people in, welcoming everyone, helping out in the community that I hadn't seen anywhere else. I'm going to miss that, I'm going to miss coming down to the rink, the hockey part for sure, fans. A lot. I mean being here for seven years, this is our home. We're going to miss it a ton here.

"I'd say just being part of this group and making it better and being part of a winning group. I pride myself in having working hard, coming to the rink and putting the team first. That's been my mentality, not worrying about having personal success is what I'm the most proud of."

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