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Friday, August 19, 2011
Without fanfare, Drury makes his exit

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

This is the script? This is how Chris Drury exits the game? With a press release issued on a Friday morning in August by the NHL Players' Association?

There must be some mistake.

Chris Drury
In 892 career NHL games with Colorado, Calgary, Buffalo and the Rangers, Chris Drury had 255 goals and 615 points.

Come on.

Get me a rewrite. Now.

This should have happened in a quiet corner of a steamy locker room, his skates still on, sweat pouring down his face.

It should have happened near the heat of battle, perhaps after another clutch goal or two, such as the ones he scored in Buffalo after the lockout, leading the Sabres to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals, or in Colorado in spring 2001, when he scored 11 goals in 23 games as the Avs presented Ray Bourque with his long-awaited Stanley Cup.

Or maybe it should have happened after a big game, such as the one he turned in for Team USA against Canada in the preliminary round of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Remember that? The Canadians were threatening to oust the Americans. They tied the score at two goals apiece and were swarming. The rink in Vancouver was insane, and it was Drury's goal that gave the U.S. some breathing room in a victory that was one of the highlights of what would become a tournament for the ages.

"He was a monster for us," Brian Burke, the GM of that U.S. team, told ESPN.com Friday.

Blocking shots, killing penalties, winning faceoffs.

"He was a joy. That kid was a joy to have on our team," Burke said.

In the end, Drury collected 615 points over a career that spanned 892 regular-season games. He scored 255 goals, an amazing 47 of them game winners. He had 47 postseason goals, 17 of which were game winners.

Clutch?

It wasn't just in the playoffs and it wasn't just one time, said Danny Briere, who was at one time the co-captain of the Buffalo Sabres with Drury.

"It was year after year after year that he could make those things happen," Briere told ESPN.com Friday. "I learned a lot from him. The way he carried himself off the ice, such a classy person. The way he prepared for games, the way he would attack the big moments."

For Sabres fans, those three seasons Briere and Drury were together (2003-07) were the salad days for a franchise still hungering for its first Stanley Cup. But after two exceptional post-lockout seasons in Buffalo, the Sabres couldn't come up with a deal to keep Drury, and he and Briere walked in what was a defining moment for the Sabres. While it didn't seem like it at the time, the five-year, $35.25 million contract Drury signed with the Rangers marked a turning point for him.

The signing of Drury and former New Jersey Devils center Scott Gomez in summer 2007 was supposed to propel the Rangers to glory. It never happened. Drury's goal production declined from 37 in his last season with Buffalo to 25, 22 and 14 over the next three seasons in New York. In 2010-11, the Rangers captain played in just 24 regular-season games and scored once, as injuries, specifically one to his knee, marked the end of the line.

The juxtaposition between the money he was making and the diminished role he was able to fill with the Rangers was difficult for Drury to bear. From the outside, it was heartbreaking to watch, and so incongruous. Yet Drury never shied away from answering questions about all of these things. His demeanor was the same, whether he was discussing a winning goal or his selection to the Olympic team or a disappointing playoff loss.

Ryan Callahan, who grew up admiring Drury, was fortunate enough to have called Drury a friend when the two became teammates in New York.

"He's a big part of who I've become as a person and as a hockey player," Callahan told ESPN.com Friday. "He was one of the guys that I tried to watch and emulate."

Dignified, classy, honest. You could have hardly asked for more from an athlete, even as Drury's body was failing him and hastening his journey out the door long before his time. In that sense, maybe it's not all that surprising Drury chose this exit from the game -- understated and without fanfare -- even if it leaves hockey somehow diminished.

"It's a sad day for us to hear that Chris Drury is retiring," Burke said. The GM said Drury was a warrior and played the game well in all three zones. "And he was an exceptional ambassador for the National Hockey League."

"It's a shame that a player like that has to retire so quickly," Briere added. "I think the hockey world is going to miss him."

We recall that day when Burke announced the U.S. Olympic team in Boston at the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2010. He had been in contact with Drury and a number of other key American players since summer 2008, laying the groundwork for a U.S. squad that would exceed all expectations and come within a Sidney Crosby overtime goal of a gold medal.

That Drury would be a part of that squad had never been in doubt, Burke said.

"Chris Drury was an automatic from our first meeting," Burke said.

So, the GM seemed surprised when he was asked that afternoon why Drury was named to the team.

"Why?" Burke wondered aloud.

"Because he's Chris Drury."

Enough said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.