By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Rick Emmett’s most recent glimpse at retirement came during a three-game stretch early this month.
The Gwinnett Gladiators veteran defenseman did not play for a week, resting an ailing knee. But instead of watching from the stands, Emmett literally suited up – looking dapper in a dark coat and tie – and stood behind the bench with head coach Jeff Pyle.
He might consider a career in coaching one day, but a trio of short absences from the ice this season have only reinforced what Emmett knew this summer – he’ll play for the Gladiators as long as they’ll have him.
“They’re going to have to kick me out of the arena,” Emmett said with a laugh. “When you get to 30, you start thinking. I mean maybe I should have been thinking sooner, but you start thinking about life after hockey. But by no means am I thinking retirement.”
Maybe it’s a little lamentable that once a player gets past, oh say 30 years old, people start talking about retirement. Emmett is in his 10th season of professional hockey and only has been out of the lineup for 12 games over the last five months.
And he’s yet to be placed on the IR. When there’s been a chance, when Gwinnett has had enough defensemen to allow it, Pyle has just rested Emmett on a game-by-game basis. When he’s needed, Emmett has always been there for the Gladiators.
“You get 10 years in and the morning you wake up after playing three-in-three-nights, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Emmett said. “But I think that’s the fun part. That’s the motivation. When you know you’re tired, you’re sore, and you go out and compete again that night, it gives you a real sense of yourself as being able to battle through those things.
“Those are the things I took for granted when I was younger.”
After playing for four teams in his rookie season out of the Ontario Hockey League, Emmett found a home in Quad City. He played five seasons with the Mallards and won two United Hockey League championships. In 2001-02 Emmett played a full season for the ECHL Macon Whoopee, the last campaign for that franchise.
He split the next season between Greenville and Macon’s new ACHL team, the Trax. At the time, Emmett was just trying to play as close to home as he could – his wife Danielle was living in Gwinnett, working for the TPC at Sugarloaf.
Then the Gladiators took up residence less than a mile from Sugarloaf and Pyle offered Emmett a place leading a very young defensive corps. He was a steady force through the regular season and a monster in the playoffs.
Emmett had 12 goals over 62 regular season games – perfectly respectable for a blueliner. But in 13 playoff games, he scored five goals and helped Gwinnett to the conference finals.
That run is listed among his favorite hockey memories, right up there with his three championship rings (he won an OHL crown with Peterborough as an 18-year-old). And it’s fueling the fires now as the Gladiators hit the backstretch with a chance to lock up a playoff berth.
“This is no doubt what you work hard for at the beginning of the year,” Emmett said. “There’s a lot of stuff on the line and it makes it more fun.
“You just kind of thrive on that pressure every night of knowing that each point is crucial.”
Gwinnett kicked off its five-game California road trip by rolling past Fresno 5-0 on Tuesday. But after Kevin Doell scored the first goal Wednesday, Long Beach got the next two and held on for the 2-1 win.
The Gladiators play tonight and Saturday in Bakersfield before wrapping up the six-day stretch on Sunday in San Diego. From there, Gwinnett closes out the regular season with four of its last six games at home and prepares for another playoff run.It’s a grueling schedule, but if a 30-year-old father of two can’t wait to get back on the ice, it should be no trouble for anyone else.
“Some days you wonder, ‘Why am I not retiring,’” Emmett said. “But those days are few and far between.
“This is the only place I’ll play. But I’ll play as long as they want me to play. I’m having a great time. Probably more fun than I’ve had in the last five, six years. There’s definitely no reason to retire now.”