Fighting back tears, Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov announced his retirement in a press conference at SAP Center Wednesday afternoon after a 13-year NHL career.
Nabokov, who was traded to the Sharks on Monday in order to retire with the team that drafted him, thanked his coaches, teammates, family and fans for guiding him through an accomplished career:
“My teammates – without them, I would not have achieved anything. It’s a team sport, and if I did not have such great teammates, I would not be even close to where I am right now. Any goalie without good support, without good players, would not achieve anything.”
While that may be true, Nabokov was outstanding in his own right. His 563 games played, 293 wins, and 50 shutouts with the Sharks are all franchise records.
A ninth-round pick of the Sharks in 1994, Nabokov defied the odds with his perseverance and humility. He mentioned how he was afraid at times to see his father or Wayne Thomas, his goaltending coach with the Sharks, because they pushed him so hard.
Yet, as Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson described, he listened and succeeded:
“He was drafted in the ninth round, 219th overall, yet he went on to win the Calder Trophy as a rookie. He did this because nobody gave him a thing, and this goes back to the character – the perseverance, the work ethic, the passion for the game. It’s a great lesson for everyone to understand. He epitomizes what this game is all about.”
And the fans in San Jose sure noticed it. Nabokov was a fan-favorite; chants of “Nabby” would ring out from the home crowd after a big save. He backstopped the Sharks during their most successful times, helping them reach the Western Conference Finals in 2004 and 2010.
Nabokov talked about his respect for the fans:
“Every time you make a save…the way they were chanting my name, it was unreal. Sometimes you’re tired and you’re not sure you have it, and then you hear the fans and you’re like, ‘Wow, I have no other choice than to be ready to play well.’ I think our fans were unbelievable.”
Case in point: Before Wednesday night’s home game against the Capitals, Nabokov dropped the ceremonial first puck, and fans gave him a nearly two-minute standing ovation. Standing near center ice, Nabokov smiled, waved, and soaked it all in before walking back into the tunnel.
It’s all over now for Nabokov, and he knows it ended in the right place:
“It’s been a lot. This circle is coming to an end. I’m happy that I will retire as a Shark.”