SAN JOSE, Calif. — For 23 seasons, Patrick Marleau woke up each day preparing to play hockey and that helped him eventually break Gordie Howe's record for most games played in the NHL.
After a difficult year away from the game hoping another team would call and offer him a chance, Marleau announced his retirement Tuesday, ending a career that featured a record 1,779 games, 566 goals, two Olympic gold medals and nearly every significant San Jose Sharks record.
“It’s been hard,” Marleau said about his first season away from the game he started playing as a 3-year-old in Saskatchewan. “I’ve played this game that much all my life and I love it. I’m getting a whole new respect for my wife and my family and all the things that they had to go through when I was gone, just the day to day. But that’s my new challenge, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing now. I can’t wait to become the best father and husband I can be.”
Marleau said he kept in shape in case a team called but nothing materialized and he realized a few weeks ago that he was ready to announce his retirement.
He capped his retirement announcement the same way he did in a letter posted on the Players' Tribune, saying simply: “Thank you, hockey.”
Marleau broke Howe's all-time games played record late last season, the capper to a remarkable career that started as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 draft. Marleau retires ranked 23rd all-time with 566 goals and 50th with 1,197 points for San Jose, Toronto and Pittsburgh.
He also holds the Sharks records for games played (1,607), goals (522) and points (1,111) as he helped make the team into a perennial contender and a fixture in the South Bay.
“You can’t describe what Patrick means to the San Jose Sharks as an organization, to San Jose as a hockey community,” Sharks president Jonathan Becher said. “There’s a reason we call him Mr. San Jose Shark. He’s symbolized the franchise for 21 years. When he was ready to retire at his time we wanted to make sure we did it right.”
Becher said the team plans to hold a jersey retirement ceremony for Marleau next season.
The news conference Tuesday with Marleau's wife, four sons and friends on hand, as well as several former teammates and select fans, came almost a year to the day after he played his final game in the NHL.
Marleau was emotional at times talking about the sacrifices made by his family and thanked all his teammates and coaches. The Sharks played a video tribute and messages from Commissioner Gary Bettman and former teammates Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
“Patrick Marleau, two-time Olympic gold medallist. You won the world championship. You won the World Cup. All-time leader in games played in NHL history. You scored over 500 goals. Crazy. Fourteenth all time in post-season goals. You did it when it mattered. You were loved by your teammates. We all love you so much," Thornton said. ”Enjoy retirement, my friend. You’ve earned it."
Some of Marleau's greatest accomplishments came at the Shark Tank where he held his retirement announcement. He scored the series-clinching goals against Detroit in the 2010 and ‘11 playoffs, he had two assists when the Sharks won their first Western Conference Final in 2016 and was on the ice for the team’s only Stanley Cup Final appearance that season.
Marleau joined the Sharks as a 17-year-old from Saskatchewan in 1997 and made an immediate impact playing as a rookie with his elite skating ability and tireless work ethic that helped him last so long in the NHL.
Interim general manager Joe Will, who was in the scouting department when Marleau was drafted, said Marleau's testing numbers and scouting reports still stand out a quarter-century later.
“They’re known as the Marleau standards,” Will said. “We’ve never seen anybody like him. We haven’t seen anybody like him since.”