EDMONTON – Josh Gorges had an inkling his NHL career was over when he and the Buffalo Sabres lost their regular-season finale in Sunrise, Fla., on April, 7, 2018.
In an emotional postgame talk with reporters, Gorges said he and his wife had discussed it possibly being the end. The 34-year-old defenseman made it official Monday morning when he announced his retirement through the NHL Players' Association. He played 13 seasons, including his last four with the Sabres, and reached the Stanley Cup playoffs six times.
Gorges finished his career ninth in league history with 1,671 blocked shots, a statistic that illustrates how he played the game and why he was revered by teammates.
"He was a guy you always knew was going to compete hard and try to do all the right things on the ice," Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian said of Gorges following the morning skate Monday in Rogers Place. "That's exactly how he was as a teammate. The first thing that comes to mind is how he sacrificed his body. He battled really hard out there and blocked a lot of shots. That's a stat that probably gets overlooked."
Gorges' final NHL season did not go as planned. He played only 34 games, posting two assists and a minus-4 rating as the Sabres finished last in the NHL for the second time in four years.
Though his play declined, Gorges was an emotional leader both on and off the ice. He was often out of the lineup last season, but coach Phil Housley put Gorges in the starting lineup during the 4-3 regular-season finale loss to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
Gorges played 15 minutes, 12 seconds that night as the Sabres quietly ended a 25-win season. It was an unfitting end to an impressive career. Gorges was a plus-34 during his eight seasons in Montreal, averaging 20 minutes, 29 seconds per game, and helped the Canadiens reach the playoffs six times.
In a two-page statement released through the NHLPA, Gorges thanked each of the three NHL teams he played for, as well as his family and former coaches.
"To the Buffalo Sabres, I want to thank you for being a classy organization that treated me and my family with respect!" Gorges wrote. "I am honored to have been a part of your organization and it is great to see you guys taking steps forward."
Montreal traded Gorges to Buffalo for a 2016 second-round draft pick on July 1, 2014, after he refused to waive his no-trade clause to nix a deal with Toronto. Gorges, who was signed by the San Jose Sharks as an undrafted free agent in 2002, had a minus-42 rating in four seasons with the Sabres.
Yet, he helped mentor many of the team's young players, including defenseman Jake McCabe.
"I came in here as a young kid and sat right next to him in the room," McCabe recalled. "He was really great to me coming in here. Really embraced me and showed me the ropes – what a true professional was, really. He came to work every single day, put his body in harm's way every night. I don’t know if the guy every played completely healthy, to be honest. He was one of those guys that grinded his way through. He was someone I definitely looked up to, especially when I first came into this dressing room."
During his career, Gorges had 124 points and a minus-6 rating in the regular season. He had nine assists and a minus-11 rating in 68 career playoff games.
Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has won 10 consecutive starts for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. Luukkonen, who helped Finland win Gold in the World Junior Championships, had a 19-save shutout Friday night against Mississauga and leads the OHL with a 2.42 goals against average.