"I'm happy that..." Evgeni Nabokov said, pausing to keep from crying, "I will retire as a Shark."
And with that, the career of the greatest goaltender in San Jose Sharks history comes to an end. Nabokov's "place in this organization and the history of this franchise is etched in stone," said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Wilson traded for Nabokov back on Monday for 'future considerations'.
"I don't know if it was physically the time, or mentally the time, but it was time," said the 39 year old Nabokov.
Nabokov officially ends his career with 697 games played (25th all time), 353 wins (18th all time), a 2.44 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage. Don't forget his 59 shutouts (17th all time) either. I don't think anyone will forget his first one, at least: taking Patrick Roy's Avalanche to a scoreless tie was a fitting start to a great career.
Plenty of former his teammates like Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Owen Nolan and Curtis Brown were in attendance, along with the coaching staff and management.
The one person who was missing was the late Warren Strelow. The legendary goalie coach was instrumental in the development of Nabokov as a goalie. Nabokov recalled meeting Strelow for the first time, and wondering how Strelow could teach him when Strelow couldn't even skate on the ice due to a hip, and Nabokov couldn't speak English. "We go on the ice, and all of a sudden, we start clicking," said Nabokov. "I understand everything that he wanted me to do."
Nabokov was always one of the most competitive guys on the team, as evidenced by his epic ping pong battle against Jamie Baker:
"He wasn't afraid to challenge the rest of us," said Assistant GM Wayne Thomas. "He challenged his teammates, he challenged the equipment guys, he challenged the athletic trainers, and he challenged the coaches daily for all of us to get better."
Nabokov made sure to thank the fans for all the support. "The fans are just unbelievable," said Nabokov. "Sometimes you're tired, and you're not really sure if you have it tonight, but you hear the fans and you're like 'Wow.' I have no other choice but to be ready and play well."
The connection goes both ways. I can't even count how many fans, how many youth hockey goalies in the area have told me 'I got into hockey because of Evgeni Nabokov.'
He had 3 years on Long Island, and this season with Tampa Bay, but it was the 10 season of Sharks hockey that defined him. Personally, I thought letting Nabby come back to retire was as classy a move Doug Wilson could make. This is home.
Thank you, Nabby.