It happened last week. I got the news on Thursday.
It was already a big news day in these parts, as it was the day that Ottawa Senators Assistant GM – and local boy – Tim Murray signed on to become the new GM of the Buffalo Sabres.
My Facebook newsfeed and Twitter feed were filled all day long with clips, stories, and messages of congratulations in honour of Tim and his family. It was a big move for a small-town guy who has proven, yet again, that great hockey minds come out of Shawville, Quebec. Tim follows in the footsteps of his uncles Bryan and Terry as he takes on his first challenge as General Manager for an NHL club.
But there, buried amidst all of the Tim Murray accolades, was the little announcement that caught my attention and caused my heart to stop for just a moment. A tweet from local sports radio personality Steve Warne: “Wade Redden retired. Solid career & person. After a memorable 2006 (50 pts, Olympic selection, Chara exit), his game died for some reason.”
And there it was.
The end of an era.
It wasn’t the same as the shock of Alfie leaving the team this past summer, and it didn’t cause the tears and heartache I felt when Redden was let go from Ottawa to free agency back in 2008.
But to say I was unaffected by the news that my hero – my favourite hockey player of all time, and the main reason I started cheering for the Senators in the first place – was hanging up his blades after 14 seasons in the NHL would be untrue.
I was sad. And on top of that, it made me feel old.
I started cheering for Wade (and the Sens) when he was just 19 years old. (I was 13.) I had some really good years there as a Wade fan, back when he was one of our top d-men, an assistant captain, and an Olympian. He was one of the cornerstones of really great team that once even got a chance at the Stanley Cup.
I consider them my Ottawa Senator glory years, and he was very much a part of it all.
I used to obsess over any little detail I could get my hands on where Wade was concerned. I’d clip articles out of the newspaper and save them. I’d spout off “Wade Redden Trivia” for all to hear – the family dog’s name is Biff; he has a brother named Bart and a sister named Nikki; he grew up on a farm in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan; he buys a luxury suite every year and calls it “Wade’s World”, and kids from CHEO get to watch games from there for free every game.
I once spotted his dad at a game in Ottawa, standing in the lobby, and I whispered, “Oh my God, that’s Wade Redden’s dad. That’s Gord Redden. Right there.” And the people I was with that night were a little alarmed, I think, that I actually recognized him.
I also once spoke to his brother Bart at a game in Ottawa, not long before Wade left the Senators. Discovered him sitting right behind me. He looked enough like Wade that I knew it had to be him. I was on Cloud 9 that day, just talking to Wade’s brother.
I grieved for him when his mother passed away, during the playoffs in 2006. While many chalk up Wade’s lackluster career thereafter to rumored “off-ice activities”, I tend to believe he lost his love & passion for the game when he lost his mom – his biggest fan.
Of course, I met Wade Redden once, too. At a 65 Roses event that my friend Brenda took me to, when I was about 18 years old. I was so nervous I couldn’t even speak to him. He stood with his arm around me for a picture, and when he said, “How’s it goin?” …I couldn’t even answer him. I was frozen.
And then, of course, there was this past December, when I creepily spied on him (and snapped a few terrible pics) from a distance at Bayshore while he stood in line at Booster Juice. He still made my heart go pitter-pat.
It was around that time, when he was in Ottawa visiting his in-laws, that I heard him give a radio interview. He was asked what he was up to these days, and he said he was currently training with the Kelowna Rockets, still an unrestricted free agent, and hoping to get a call eventually.
He must have given up waiting. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a bit of a shame. I know Wade Redden’s career dwindled severely, and that he was never worth the $6.5M he was eventually signed to by the New York Rangers in ‘08. But I still think he’s a guy who had skill, a guy who could’ve made a difference on somebody’s blueline, a guy with gas left in the tank.
The fact that he was forgotten about and left to fade away is what really bothers me.
At the end of the day, though, I realize that he’s probably quite content with his decision. He has a young family, and retiring allows him to turn the page, and look forward to spending even more time with his wife and children.
I endured some pretty bad days as a Wade Redden fan – torment and mockery from other fans, vicious rumors, and watching him fade quickly from being a top NHL defenceman to a vastly-overpaid minor leaguer – but I never stopped believing in him. I never stopped being a Wade Redden fan.
I’m glad he got to come back after his days in the minors in Hartford. I’m glad he got to play his 1000th NHL game for St. Louis, and then made a drive in the playoffs with the Bruins. If I only got one last fleeting moment of glory, it will be that game against the Leafs last spring in which he scored a goal, an assist, and they took a big 4-1 win.
I didn’t know then that it would be my last hurrah as a Wade Fan.
But I’ll remember it – and him – forever.
Thank you, Wade.