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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- He had the long hair, the big smile, the hunting hat and was chewing tobacco. Yep, that was indeed Mike Ricci at the San Jose Sharks morning skate today.
Just like in his playing days, Ricci has an unmistakable look.
"The hair's a little shorter," he said with a chuckle.
Three years removed from his last NHL game, the 38-year-old Ricci is loving life in the Sharks organization. GM Doug Wilson reached out to him a few years back and has brought him along with different responsibilities. He's now a development coach for the organization.
"You know what, it's been great," Ricci said. "Doug and the organization have been tremendous. I get to go down to [AHL] Worcester once a month. I work with the forwards, especially. Just little things, about how to become a professional. The kids are great, they want to learn. I've done a bit more travel this year and helped Doug with college free agents and stuff like that."
He struggled coping with his retirement after 16-plus seasons in the NHL. The ice was all he knew.
"It's hard, you can't but feel a little sorry for yourself," he said. "You feel like you're the only guy who's ever gone through it. It's taken me a lot of time."
The Sharks job is a needed fixture in his life.
"You never know how much you're going to miss the game until you leave," said Ricci. "You say, 'When I retire, I'm just going to go hunting and fishing.' But you realize you need something else and this has kept me out of trouble, for sure."
He has become a liaison of sorts between the players in the organization and the coaching staff and front office. He has a special bond with the players without being their coach.
"When one of the kids I was working with gets called up, I'm proud of them and I want to help them when they are up here," said Ricci. "That's a special feeling."
Ricci doesn't know where all this will lead. Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier and Luc Robitaille are among the many former players now with high-profile jobs in the NHL, but Ricci hasn't looked that far down the road.
"Right now, I'm just focused on working with young guys," he said. "I've been busy with that, so I don't really know what I'm going to do [long-term]. But it's just been a lot of fun."
As we sat and watched the morning skate, Ricci realized he's been away from the game for a while.
"Marleau and Nabby are the only two guys left that I played with here," said Ricci, who last played in San Jose in 2004 and finished his career in Phoenix. "I'm starting to realize that I'm getting old."
Once his career was over in Phoenix, the decision was easy -- move back to San Jose.
"Our kids were born here and we love it here," said Ricci, whose kids are ages 9, 6 and 4. "We like it here, it's a great area. The people are great."
Having spent seven seasons in San Jose, he remains a fan favorite.
"It's funny, people always think back home, `You moved to California so no one recognizes you,'" Ricci said. "But more people recognize me here than they do in Canada. This is a good hockey market. We need to win a Stanley Cup to show people what a great place it is, but it's an amazing place to live. I was lucky. The organization has been great."