TORONTO — Paul Kariya laced up his skates for the first time since 2010, when he retired from the NHL after his sixth diagnosed concussion.
What’s more: Kariya — who is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday — skated in an exhibition game on Sunday alongside Scott Stevens, the defenseman who delivered an infamous hit in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals which concussed Kariya.
The two players had not spoken since the incident.
“We haven’t really had a chance to chat,” Stevens told ESPN.com after the Legends Classic. “I have a lot of respect for Paul and don’t think there’s really any animosity either way. I hope. Hopefully maybe I’ll find some time to chat with him, but I think he’s doing well. Obviously this has come to the forefront because Paul is getting inducted, which is great and well deserved, but this is all going back to that series against Anaheim [in 2003] and the hit.”
Kariya has shied from the spotlight since leaving the game seven years ago. He has only attended one NHL game — in May, 2014 he watched his good friend, Teemu Selanne’s, NHL finale at the Honda Center – but says he still watches hockey and doesn’t feel distant from the sport.
“I don’t feel like I disappeared,” Kariya said. “Ninety-five percent of my friends are hockey players, coaching hockey, in hockey. When those guys are in town, we go to dinner and all we do is talk about hockey. I’ve never felt separated from the game for one bit….it’s more been me being a private person and being out of the spotlight.”
Selanne, a fellow 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, believes the ceremony is an important benchmark for Kariya. “The way his career ended, he didn’t really have closure, that’s how I feel,” Selanne said. “The way how he has been the last three, four months – he’s like a totally different person. He’s so happy, he’s so excited about everything.”
While Kariya says he is indeed excited about the ceremony, he disagrees with Selanne.
“I never looked for closure or ever felt like that. I never needed closure,” Kariya said.
Kariya initially played on Team Canada alongside Stevens in the Legends Classic on Sunday but, midway through the game, was “traded” to Team World so he could be reunited with Selanne. Kariya took a between-the-legs pass from Selanne and scored through the five hole on goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère.
Said Stevens, “I just hope Paul is enjoying life, that’s what is important. He played hard. We played in a tough era. At the time, it was a pretty crazy game.”