Dave Andreychuk began his career in 1982 with the Sabres as a 19-year-old left wing. It ended in January 2006 after four seasons as Lightning captain and a Stanley Cup title. How fitting, then, those teams will play tonight on Dave Andreychuk Night at the St. Pete Times Forum. It is difficult to overstate what the Hamilton, Ontario, native meant to a young Tampa Bay squad; from three 20-goal seasons to his leadership by example. Andreychuk, 43, is a likely Hall of Famer as one of the NHL's great scorers. The Lightning's new community relations liaison spoke to Times staff writer Damian Cristodero about a difficult end to his career, his expanding waistline and how wife Sue tolerates him at home.
So after almost a year away from the game, do your clothes fit tighter?
Yeah, they do. I took a few months off and realized I couldn't get my suits on again. Then I started working out but my schedule got kind of busy so I stopped. I've definitely got to get back to working out a little bit.
How is life after hockey?
It's been a little bit of a challenge trying to juggle my schedule and run my family and being able to go to basketball games and volleyball games and whatever else I've missed most of my life.
What else did you miss?
I missed one of the births of my children, so there have been a lot of things I've missed and I can't make up for that; missing the first step, the first tooth. But I'm trying to make up for it now. I'm involved with my kids. I'm involved with the school. We don't talk about things I missed. We talk about that I'm here now.
What about Sue?
(Laughing) I've been back in Buffalo a little bit and back to Hamilton. I've had some events up there that have gotten her a few days of relief.
Do you regret your career ended with you on waivers and, though it only was on paper, a minor-league assignment?
John (coach Tortorella) and I had a mutual agreement we would see how that year went. We talked about it in the summer. They made some decisions and they felt they needed to move in a different direction. I've always accepted it. I have the utmost respect that they made a decision. That's the job that they have.
Why, though, did it take almost 10 months to take a position with the team?
You think you're prepared (for retirement) but you're not. It took me awhile. It really did. I had to step back a little bit; step back from the team, away from the building. I did a lot of thinking about what my future was going to be and what I wanted it to be.
Any thought you wouldn't work for Tampa Bay?
No, I've been respected the most by this organization and this city more than any place I've played. It's almost overwhelming. To me, that's why I'm still here. It has a place in my heart what this city and this organization have done for me and my family.
Do you miss playing?
I don't miss training camp. I miss being around the younger guys. I miss that camaraderie I had watching them grow every day, listening to their stories, helping them through their struggles. I miss a little bit of the competition. Now you go to the golf course and you're trying to regain all that. It's hard to do.
Other than winning the Cup, what do you remember most about the 2003-04 season?
I look back on a lot of teams that were close and this is one of those teams. We all played for each other. We had a common goal and achieved it.
Was it your best team?
Not necessarily the best team but the most determined team, and it might be the most talented team with all the great young players we had.
Why is games played your most cherished statistic?
Achieving 1,500 games is not like a (milestone) that can be taken away. It's an achievement you feel good about inside that you've played that long in the league and not many guys have done that.
And to think you almost became a vet. Weren't you working at a veterinarian hospital the day of the junior league draft?
Yup. I said to my parents, 'I'll see you after the weekend,' and I never came home.
Greatest player you played against?
Wayne Gretzky, not only for what he did on the ice but for what he did as a person and what he meant to the game. I played with him in an All-Star Game in '90 and just the respect he had for me for a guy who was 27 years old. It made me realize that there was more than what you do on the ice. To be a great player it was also what you did off the ice.
Is the Hall of Fame a necessary end to your career?
I don't think so. I've had a lot of days in the sun. If I don't get another one, that's okay with me. It would be a great honor to get there, but it's not the end of the world if I don't.
How does it feel that the teams you started with and ended with will be in the same building on your night?
I have mixed emotions. I have some people still in that organization I have a lot of respect for and I'm glad they're going to be there. With (the Lightning), I'm overwhelmed with the respect they showed me. It just continues to grow with this night. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be awesome.
Andreychuk by the numbers
6 Teams: Lightning, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Devils, Bruins, Avalanche.
Games played, fourth all time.
640 Goals, 11th all time, second among left wings.
Power-play goals, first all time
19 Seasons with 20 goals, third all time.
3 Daughters: Taylor, 13; Caci, 11; Brooke 6.
2 All-Star Games: 1990, '94.
1 Stanley Cup title.
What they're saying
"The scouts who worked for us compared him to Phil Esposito, who at that time was the best player in the slot for about 10 years. It was a good comparison.''
Scotty Bowman, Andreychuk's first coach with the Sabres
"Andy stepped out there time and again and blocked shots. Once you see the captain doing it, then everybody else follows suit, and we ended up with a lot of shot blockers. It's a commitment, and he helped us get that through to people.''
Craig Ramsay, Lightning associate coach
"We called him the Commish because he directed traffic off the ice. 'Let's go here.' He loves the game, respects the game, but at the same time he knew you had to have that release and enjoy your time.''
Doug Gilmour, ex- Leafs teammate