Paul Kariya has traded in his hockey stick for a surfboard, and Southern California has served him nicely following his retirement from the National Hockey League in 2011.
A series of concussions prematurely ended the NHL career of the former University of Maine Hobey Baker Award winner and All-American.
Even so, Kariya registered 989 points in 989 NHL games, which enabled him to become the first former Black Bear to be inducted into any pro sports hall of fame.
He will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 13 in Toronto.
The dynamic Kariya led UMaine to its first NCAA championship in 1992-1993 and became the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s top prize. He tallied 25 goals and 75 assists for 100 points in only 39 games as the Black Bears went 42-1-2.
He was inducted into the University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and will return to Orono on Friday night to be inducted with the 1992-1993 team, which is being honored as a group.
“It’s going to be really nice to get together. I’m looking forward to seeing them and getting caught up. There should be a lot of laughs,” Kariya, who turns 43 next month, said.
One of the people he will be particularly anxious to see is Grant Standbrook, the former UMaine assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
Standbrook will be inducted individually and with the team.
The two have maintained a close friendship.
“People have asked me why a kid from Vancouver (British Columbia) wound up in Orono. Grant Standbrook,” Kariya said.
“Grant has been connected to every part of my life. He even taught me how do drive,” chuckled Kariya, who learned to drive following his freshman season.
Brothers Steve Kariya and Marty Kariya followed Paul to UMaine and Steve played on the Black Bears’ 1999 national championship team. Sister Noriko Kariya played field hockey at UMaine.
Kariya recalled that the 1992-1993 team was subjected to a “lot of hype because of our (freshman) class.”
The other two high-profile players in the class, twins Peter Ferraro and Chris Ferraro, also went on to play in the NHL. The Ferraros combined for 101 points during the 1992-1993 college season.
The fact they had also had two future NHL goalies in Garth Snow and Mike Dunham prompted Kariya to term it “an embarrassment of riches.”
Dunham played in 394 NHL games and Snow appeared in 368.
Kariya said the team was special in that it had every component: Skill, speed, grit, goaltending and work ethic.
He noted that the fourth line, which featured the likes of hard-nosed Dave LaCouture and Martin Mercier, had a physical, grinding presence which helped wear down opposing defenseman and create more space for the scoring lines.
Kariya’s line, which included captain and Hobey Baker finalist Jim Montgomery (32-63-95) and sniper Cal Ingraham (46-39-85), still remains one of the top scoring lines, if not the highest-scoring line, in NCAA history.
He said playing at Alfond Arena was special.
“The fans had so much energy and they were right on top of you. I talked to some guys who had played at BU (Boston University) and they weren’t excited to come up to play at Alfond,” Kariya said.
He said he doesn’t have any lingering effects from his concussions and said he began surfing during the NHL’s half-season lockout in 1994-1995. He was playing for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at the time.
“We were all looking for something to do. It keeps you in good shape. And it’s something you can do for the rest of your life,” Kariya, who used play golf but feels surfing is a much better workout, said.
His NHL career featured six seasons with at least 81 points including 108-, 101- and 99-point seasons with the Mighty Ducks, where he spent nine seasons before spending a year in Colorado, two in Nashville and three in St. Louis.
But the multiple concussions caught up to him.
At the time of his retirement, Kariya was critical of the NHL for not doing enough to punish players who target an opponent’s head.
Chicago’s Gary Suter received a four-game suspension for cross-checking Kariya. It occurred right before the 1998 Winter Olympics and Kariya was unable to play for Canada in the Olympics or the rest of the NHL season.
But in a June interview in Sportsnet, he said bears no bad feelings toward the NHL for the premature end to his career and feels the league is going in the right direction.
“I’d still like to see more done in terms of how long the suspensions are and the severity of the suspensions,” Kariya said in a June story in the Los Angeles Times. “But hopefully things continue to progress. If that’s out there and players know that the suspensions are going to be harsher, I hope they won’t make those kinds of hits.”
Kariya, who played in the 1994 and 2002 Olympics for Canada, will be going into the Hockey Hall of Fame with good friend and former Anaheim teammate Teemu Selanne.
“If I didn’t get the opportunity to play with him, I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, so I’m very thankful,” Kariya said in a June interview with Sportsnet. “He made me a better person and I appreciate everything he did for me off the ice as well as on the ice.”
He said in the story that becoming a Hall of Famer is an “incredible honor.
“I can’t say this is a dream come true, because never in my wildest dreams did I ever think this was possible,” Kariya said.