No looking back for Sean O'Donnell

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
11:14
AM ET
And just like that, Sean O'Donnell is going from grizzled, veteran NHLer to full-fledged rookie.

Wtih his wife seven and half months pregnant, the 41-year-old O’Donnell is nearing his first experience at fatherhood with baby No. 1 on the way.

"I’ve always wanted to be a father," O’Donnell told ESPN.com Wednesday after deciding to retire as an NHL player. "I think this will take some of the sting out of retirement. I’m just so excited and looking forward to fatherhood."

One of the NHL’s most popular teammates and a throwback in the way he approached the game, the longtime defenseman is calling it quits after failing to draw any interest from NHL teams this week when camps opened.

The final decision was made Wednesday morning.

"I’ve been thinking about it for a while," said O'Donnell, who now lives just south of Tampa. "I wasn’t shocked when I wasn’t signed heading into camp. I was always hoping that when things got settled (on the labor front) that there would be an opportunity. I always figured if when camps did open I didn’t have anything, I would pack it in."

O’Donnell decided he’d likely retire a few days ago but wanted to sleep on it a couple of nights to make sure.

"It feels like the right decision," he said.

"It’s not an easy thing to pull the trigger on. Once you do it, you don’t want to go back on it. So you want to make sure and sleep on it. I’ve slept fine the last two nights, woken up in a good mood. There’s nothing gnawing at me telling me to hang on anymore. It’s time."

He knew early during the NHL lockout that this might be the case, as he told us back on Oct. 31.

Whether or not the lockout cost him one more season in the NHL, O’Donnell can’t say. Obviously the fact NHL teams have just five days this week in camp has limited the opportunity for jobs, most clubs bringing a tight roster to camp.

"I can see how a team didn’t have time to evaluate whether or not I had anything left in the tank," O’Donnell said. "I guess the lockout didn’t help, but it may not have mattered either way. I don’t know."

He didn’t know it that very night, but April 19 while playing with Chicago during a playoff series against Phoenix would be his last NHL game.

"It didn’t cross my mind until we got eliminated by Phoenix, and then I realized if nothing happened for me this year, that I could have played my last game," O’Donnell said.

With 1,224 regular season games plus 106 more in the postseason under his belt over 17 NHL seasons, O’Donnell left it all on the ice.

The Stanley Cup win in Anaheim in 2007 is obviously among his fondest memories.

"I have some pictures around my house of moments right after we won," he said. "Those celebration moments still resonate when I look at them and you can get emotional looking at them."

His time in Southern California, two different stops in L.A. plus his time in Anaheim, is cherished as well.

"I was there 11 to 12 years in total between both teams, and I enjoyed living there, met some great people," he said. "Southern California was real good to me. It holds a special place in my heart."

What’s next? Perhaps down the road he’ll be intrigued by some TV work (he did some playoff work for TSN in Canada last spring) or perhaps doing some NHL scouting at some point in time.

He hasn’t decided, and he’s in no rush to figure that out with a baby on the way.

"I certainly want to stay involved with the game of hockey in one form or another," he said.

Either way, there’s no looking back.

"It’s been a great ride," O’Donnell said.

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