A Career That Nearly Ended
Thursday, 11.09.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
A testament to Numminen's longevity and skill at hockey's highest level, the record has been 19 seasons in the making and nearly never happened thanks to the NHL lockout.
Sitting in his home in Tampere, Finland during the work stoppage two years ago, the Sabres alternate captain contemplated his future. His outlook was rather bleak.
Numminen's then 17-year career teetered on the edge of retirement.
"A couple times during the lockout I actually retired," said Numminen. "I said, 'Ok, that's enough. I'm not going to come back.' I was actually trying to find a reason to quit.
"It was so annoying not to be playing hockey. When you have done this for as long as I have and it gets taken away from you, it's confusing. You just don't want to deal with that type of stuff. I just wanted to walk away but I couldn't find a reason to."
Several other well-known player's careers, such as Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils, Ron Francis of the Carolina Hurricanes and Al MacInnis of the St. Louis Blues, ended with the work stoppage.
But the lockout revived something in Numminen that the defenseman had forgotten. The time away from hockey reignited his fire and desire, and made him grateful for the little things that he enjoyed but didn't notice in the past.
"I started to doubt whether or not I still loved the game," said Numminen. "But when it's taken away from you … you find the answers.
"I missed practices, being at the rink and just playing the game. Even the traveling. You go on the road to the different hotels and have dinner at different restaurants with your friends … that's nice."
After the labor dispute ended, Numminen signed a one-year contract with Buffalo and went on to appear in 75 games during 2005-06. He also made it to the Conference Finals for the first time in his career.
After Buffalo lost to Carolina in Game 7, Numminen began his off-season tradition.
As he did each summer for the last three or four years since injuries began to become a concern, Numminen ran a diagnostic on his season and asked himself the questions that needed to be answered.
How did the season go? What adjustments can I make to be better? What are my weaknesses? Do I still possess a desire to play? Am I ready for another season?
Numminen answered each of those questions with a resounding, yes.
"It was so much fun last season and coming back from the lockout, I was only hoping that I could come back to Buffalo," said Numminen. "I wanted to continue the journey with the guys in this locker room.
"I never thought anything like this [record] would happen to me. I always took my career a year at a time. I guess I was never really that confident that I was going to build a long career.
"It's been a great ride. To do this for this long has been unbelievable."
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