What better time to post a retrospective on Mike Ricci than the week in which he announced his retirement from the NHL?
A soccer player turned hockey center (and Geddy Lee lookalike), Mike Ricci was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in 1992 by the Flyers as part of the Eric Lindros Trade along with Peter Forsberg and others. At that time, not only was Ricci an effective defensive forward, but he could score, too. His first season in Quebec he scored 27 goals and 78 points, a total he would never reach again.
As the seasons passed, Ricci began to fully develop his defensive abilities, understanding that on a team with centers like Forsberg and Joe Sakic, he didn't have to be a constant offensive threat. As his points totals decreased, his penalty minutes and fan following increased, as well as his effectiveness killing penalties.
When the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, "Reech" enjoyed instant Denver fan approval for his nasty, persistent defensive play as much as his iconic face and flowing mullet. His offensive skills weren't totally lost, though, because he scored 17 points in 22 playoff games in 1996, the first year the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, Ricci's time with the Avs was short, and he was traded to the San Jose Sharks in 1997 for Shean Donovan and a draft pick that became Alex Tanguay.
Mike Ricci cemented his reputation as a defensive power forward with the Sharks, playing seven seasons with that team and forming the cornerstone of their penalty killing unit. He often led the team's forwards in blocked shots and takeaways. Reech finished in the top four among candidates for the Frank Selke trophy in 1999-00 and 2000-01, a further testament to his two-way talent.
In 2005, Ricci joined the Phoenix Coyotes and changed his uniform number to 40 in honor of the late Pat Tillman. At the end of that season, in the summer of 2006, Reech underwent surgery to repair a neck injury but never fully recovered, and after playing just seven games last season, announced his retirement at a charity golf tournament on Monday, August 13, 2007.
"I tried to play but wasn't strong enough," Ricci said. "It was tough. I tried but just didn't have the health. I wasn't ready. I hoped I could still play but couldn't do it. With that, and other reasons, I decided to retire."
A lackluster end for an exciting and iconic hockey player. Mike Ricci was an asset to every team he ever skated for, and will be missed by fans in Denver as much as anywhere else.