00:05, 00:04, 00:03, 00:02, 00:01, 00:00.
The final buzzer sounded, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I was stopped in my tracks, absolutely paralyzed and unable to comprehend the sound that I’ve heard thousands of times throughout my career. The scoreboard and more importantly, the time on my career clock read 00:00.
My ears were flooded with white noise, and my stomach flipped with a feeling of stiff nausea. I don’t recall shaking hands with the other team, watching them hoist the trophy, or skating off the ice for that matter. The minutes following the buzzer were an intoxicating blur, ones that were surged with despair and incomprehensible emotion.
So as I sat in the locker room, refusing to take my jersey off for a final time, I told myself it was just a dream. I thought I was prepared for this moment, but nothing in the world could have equipped me for that feeling of unbearable heartache. A game I fell in love with so many years ago was at its end and I became numb with the reality. No way did my season fly by that fast, no way was my career over, no way was that the last time I would hear that buzzer, I thought. I was living in a moment that I had been dreading for so long, flooded with nostalgic flashbacks and denial.
I gazed up in the stands before leaving the ice a final time, blurry-sighted from the tears, and saw the people who have made this journey worth it. There stood my parents, my fans and my friends, all celebrating the long, demanding and incredibly rewarding career that once was. As I looked at my mum and dad, appreciating the countless years they sacrificed to let me fulfill my every dream, I realized that this too was an ending for them. I took a deep breath and waved one last time, hoping they would grasp the amount of gratitude, appreciation and gratefulness that I felt.
Several months ago, I wrote,
“All that is certain in life is this moment- so I ask you to make sure that when that buzzer of your career hits 00:00, you can look back with not a single regret. You can take off your jersey for the last time, watch as the crowd shuffles out and know that you traveled down this final stretch with your heart wide open and with an abundance of incredible memories to add to your highlight reel.”
Yet here I am today, paralyzed and heartbroken that the clock does in fact say 00:00. I woke up this morning with a sense of emptiness inside me, a gaping hole that’s lingering like a bad scent. It’s left me numb, and unable to comprehend the authenticity and actuality that my career has reached its end.
But despite this immobilizing consciousness, today is in fact the first day of the rest of my life. The page has flipped, and I am beginning my next chapter. It’s scary to be honest, and this feeling of uncertainty as for what’s to come is incredibly overwhelming. But as all good things come to an end, I am smiling because it happened, not crying because it’s over.
Reflecting on the past four years, and the countless ones before that have lead me to this very moment, I have learned and acquired things that words cannot explain. I have learned that the most important thing about sports is being a good teammate, cherishing the friendships that I’ve built, and taking with me failures that have become great lessons.
So as the feeling of emptiness serenades, the raging waters begin to calm and all the dust settles, I sit here feeling humbled in opportunity. I am at peace with this door closing because I know many are about to open.
To a senior who has already hung up your jersey for a final time, or those of you who are about to, I ask you to smile and take a deep breath. I say this with the deepest empathy and solace as this moment in time has become nothing more than a vivid memory and flashback of the career I just bid farewell. The highlight reel I once spoke about, is now a past tense, a longstanding memory and former chapter in my book of life.
To those of you who have a few years left on your career clock, I ask you to do the same- smile and take a deep breath. Time is the one thing you can never get back, and while staying mindful and being present in each moment is far easier said than done, I ask you to try.
I would kill for another game, another shift or another moment with my teammates. You don’t realize these things until you’re hunched over in your stall, submerged in despair and completely heartbroken, wishing you had just one more second. You will ask yourself why you let so many days slip away, why you wished away so many practices or went through the motions because when all you have is a memory of what once was, you’ll realize that the time you spent wanting it to be over could have been time spent creating memories that would last a lifetime. I say this because in those hours following my last game, I looked back and realized that I was guilty of letting these opportunities pass me by.
So next time you put on your jersey, if you’re lucky enough to do so, look around. Look at the 20-something teammates who surround you. Hear the cheers from your family and friends in the crowd, and take an extra second to really feel. Do not take anyone or anything for granted, because before you blink, it will all be over. You will someday be in the same spot I was last night, holding on for dear life to a moment that you never want to let go of.
Today marks day one. I jump into the unknown with a smile on my face, knowing that the only regret I have in my career, was not seizing every day. This is a lesson learned, and something I will take with me on the adventures that lie ahead. The hardest things in life also happen to be the most fulfilling, so while my time as a hockey player wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, I have learned that even in the darkest moments, magnificence has a funny way of always emerging.
I look forward to sharing stories about my career with my kids, reminding them and myself of the best years of my life. The trophies, jerseys, pucks and photograph will serve as a reminder to take advantage of every opportunity and to live every day like it's the last. My time as a player has come to and end, but the friendships and memories I will take with me wherever I go.
So as the heartbreak slowly takes its toll and as the hurt begins to subside, I thank everyone who’s been part of this journey-one I wouldn’t trade in for the world. Having my family in the stands, and the incredible group of teammates around me, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my highlight real.
My career clock reads 00:00, but the clock to the rest of my life has just begun.