Ryan Callahan built an NHL career by playing through injuries.
The last two seasons… it was a back problem.
“Day to day, I didn’t know how I would be,” Callahan said. “I would start a game, my back would flare up. I wouldn’t be able to finish the game. It was tough mentally on me. It was tough, obviously on my back, too. I thought at the end of the year, I was going to be able to get it fixed.”
This was different. It was degenerative back disease. Doctors broke the news last summer that could never play again.
“Little bit of shock to be honest with you. You don’t expect to hear that,” Callahan said. “You hear it from one doctor. You say, ‘ok’. You think you’re gonna see another doctor who’s going to tell you different, (but) you keep hearing the same thing. Then, it just starts to set in and (becomes) reality.
“You take a look at everything this game has given me, it’s hard to be bitter over the way it ends. It doesn’t make it any easier, but at the same time looking back, I was pretty blessed to be able to do what I did for as long as I did.”
Callahan missed over 200 games during his 13-year NHL career. The continuous black cloud of injury luck never bothered the Hilton native. For him, injuries were how it had to be.
“They go hand in hand with the way I’ve played the game. That’s what made my career successful,” he said.
Successful is exactly what his career was. He scored 186 goals and added exactly 200 assists for 386 points.
Callahan went to four conference finals and a Stanley Cup final. His teams made the playoffs 11 of 13 seasons. In both seasons Callahan missed the playoffs, his team fell short by one point.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said. “Captain of an original six team. Played for two teams in my career. Both teams were very successful.”
However, his teams were never all the way successful.
He fell two wins short of a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2015. He also was on the wrong side of Sidney Crosby’s famous overtime gold medal winner at the 2010 Olympics.
For Callahan, that silver medal was hardly disappointing.
“There was a while I didn’t even want to look at that thing. It was that disappointment,” he said. “I can honestly say about a month or two afterwards, the emotions calmed down and you realize, as a team, what you accomplished and how special it is. The biggest thing for me now is it’s something I can When I see their reaction when they realize what it is.”
Callahan thinks he got out at the right time, health-wise. He can still play golf, swim and “throw his kids around” (They’re 7, 5 and 2 years old… right in the wheelhouse of “crawl all over dad”).
He can also revel in a great career.
“Coming from Hilton, New York and… a little bit undersized,” he said. “To have the success I’ve had, I’ve been extremely blessed.”
He and wife, Kyla, are both Rochester natives. The whole family is moving home later this summer.
Callahan will do some broadcasting for the NHL Network and also work as the Director of Hockey Development for the new Bishop Kearney Boys Select program. He’s excited to be patient and explore different possibilities for the next phase of his life.
However he builds his retirement, at least he won’t have to take a beating doing it.