With his 32nd birthday coming up in July, Luke Gazdic knew it was time to change professions.
Earlier this week, he announced an end to his pro hockey playing career.
“Everyone comes to some point in their career where you just can’t do it anymore. Physically, mentally, I was pretty drained. My body’s been through a lot,” said Gazdic.
Gazdic, who played 136 of his 147 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers from 2013 to 2016, stood 6’4″ and weighed 225 pounds. He was a big presence who knew he had to stick up for his teammates and fight for them when needed. He finishes with 28 NHL fights.
“I established the role in the minors my first year or two really quickly and effectively, I would say,” recalled Gazdic, who spent four seasons in the Dallas Stars system. In the Stars final pre-season game in September 2013 against the Oilers, he scored a goal and felt like he would finally make the big club.
“I thought I had cemented myself on that Dallas roster,” said Gazdic. “It wasn’t meant to be. Within 24 hours, I was on waivers and was picked up by the Edmonton Oilers.”
So Gazdic flew to Edmonton and had barely a day to get to know his new surroundings.
“I knew from the early going, talking to management and coaches, the role they wanted me to play. It wasn’t just being a tough guy. It was being a tough guy but also having to play a regular shift.”
On Oct. 1, 2013, at the age of 24, Gazdic made his NHL debut at Rexall Place against the Winnipeg Jets.
“On my first shift, we lined up in the offensive zone,” said Gazdic, who had the puck come to him off the face-off. “I threw it from a terrible angle. It might have hit a couple of things. It pinballed in there. It was first game, first shift, first shot, first goal, and first Oilers goal of the season in our home opener. Just an incredible memory.”
In the 2015/16 season, Gazdic welcomed a new roommate: Connor McDavid. Gazdic isn’t surprised at the eye-popping stats McDavid has put up over his first six years in the league.
“The work ethic he showed and put in on a daily basis, wanting to win, wanting to be the best player on the ice, was unmatched from anyone I’ve played with,” said Gazdic. “They will win. Connor will win. The Oilers will win with him at the core and at the helm.”
Gazdic isn’t sure what comes next for him. For the past few days, he’s been reflecting on his career and hearing from a lot of Oilers fans.
“All these messages that have been pouring in make me think it was all worth it. I love Oil Country. I loved every second in it. It’s a tough place to play. It’s hard. It’s blue collar. I loved every second of it.”