Minnesota Wild veteran center Wes Walz, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, announced his retirement Saturday morning at an Xcel Energy Center press conference.
“Wes stands for so many of the values we want our players to embody,” Wild President and General Manager Doug Risebrough said. “His level of preparation and passion was an example each day. On and off the ice he helped build the foundation of this organization. His legacy will extend far beyond today.”– press release
Walz started the year with the Wild, and played 11 games, but had a couple tough outings and requested a leave of absence to think over his future, something most interpreted as an admission he'd played his final NHL game. He was a terrific defensive player for Minnesota, who plucked him out of the Swiss league at age 30 and saw him blossom playing against the team's toughest opposition.
He retires at 37 with just 607 career games played, 438 of which were in Minnesota. Walz is a small guy to take on a defensive role, but became a Jacques Lemaire favourite given his speed and work ethic.
I remember running into a few of his buddies in a Vancouver hotel during the 2003 playoffs, some of the only people in town decked out in Wild jerseys. They'd made the drive from Calgary to cheer on their friend, whose unlikely NHL return reached its peak that year with a trip to the conference finals.
Underrated and popular, Walz's retirement will be buried among tomorrow's news items outside of Minnesota – but I think it's worth this small note.