Glib as ever, Alaska Aces veteran defenseman Matt Shasby didn't immediately cite "retirement'' to confirm the end of his career because, well, that sounded a bit grandiose for a minor-league hockey player.
"I don't believe you can retire from minor-league pro hockey -- you just kind of do something else,'' he said, deadpan.
Not that Shasby, who turns 29 next week, won't miss playing the game that has been his passion since his youth and propelled him to stardom at Chugiak High and UAA, and then for six years as a pro.
Shasby played his last four seasons for the Aces -- helping them seize the ECHL's Kelly Cup in 2006 -- and played his last match in a Game 7 loss to South Carolina in the Kelly Cup Finals earlier this month.
"No one wants to say the final words,'' Shasby said Thursday. "It's tough to spit it out. The day the season starts and I'm not on the ice, I'll say I'm retired.
"At the end, that last game was pretty emotional all day, telling myself, 'This is the last time I'll put on my gear competitively.' All those years are done now. I think I'm OK with that.''
The two-time, second-team All-ECHL selection said he's "99.9 percent'' locked into his decision and is pursuing his teaching certificate to begin his second career.
Shasby had hinted this past season was likely his last and confirmed it in his end-of-season meeting with Aces coach Keith McCambridge.
"He goes, 'Is that it?' '' Shasby recalled. "I go, 'Yeah, I think so.' We thanked each other.''
McCambridge said the Aces are losing a cornerstone of the franchise, an elite player and a leader.
"We lose a guy, most importantly, who realizes the importance of hockey in Alaska,'' McCambridge said. "Second, we lose an offensively gifted defenseman, one of the two or three best in the league -- that's a big void to fill on the back end. Third, we lose a good man, a good father and a good person.''
Thus begins the club's annual turnover in personnel. Rosters are fluid from season to season in the ECHL, a developmental circuit two steps below the NHL. Of the 35 players the Aces used in the 2008-09 regular season, 12 played for the club the previous season.
McCambridge said defenseman Corbin Schmidt of Anchorage, who played all four of his pro seasons for the Aces, also has retired.
Though Shasby was a second-team All-ECHL selection this past season and among the smoothest skaters in the league, he said he figured now was as good a time as any to stop playing. He and his wife, Brooke, have two children, Camden (4) and Brynn (1).
"Obviously, I think I could play more, but every year I play I'm farther away from another career,'' Shasby said. "I'm actually looking forward to the challenge of the every-day, real world. Obviously, it's a tough transition for any athlete.''
Shasby, who has a bachelor's in history from UAA, said he has been working toward his teaching certificate.
"I have a strong desire to make impacts on young lives,'' he said. "Every single year, you're moving kids on and watching them develop.''
Still, he'll miss hanging out at the rink with the boys.
"First, you'll miss the locker room, and you'll miss paid vacation (road trips) all winter, and miss going to Sullivan Arena knowing you're going to compete,'' Shasby said.
"I had a running joke with (defenseman) Bryan Miller when we'd be sitting in the room before practice -- not too many jobs can you change out of your street clothes into underwear, sit around joking with 20 guys, and then you go to work.''
Shasby will run his hockey camp the first two weeks of August and is looking forward to coaching youth hockey, starting with the youngest kids now that his son is old enough to begin playing.
"I'll get my hockey fix that way,'' Shasby said with a laugh. "I'll live vicariously through my son.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog online at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Alaska Dispatch Publishing