The NHL appears to be on the verge of saying good-bye to one of its all-time great underdog stories. After nearly two decades and more than 1,000 games played, Steve Sullivan announced this week that he was “99.9 percent” sure his career was over.
Your memories of the 39-year-old Sullivan’s NHL run will largely depend on which team you cheer for. In New Jersey, he was the long-shot ninth-round pick who both began and ended his career as a Devil. In Toronto, he was a key piece in the Doug Gilmour trade who became a casualty of the Leafs’ typical impatience. In Chicago, he was the unexpected sniper who once led the league in short-handed goals. In Nashville, he was a veteran presence who helped the team finally emerge as a contender. And in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, he was a free-agency gamble coming in on short-term deals at the end of his career.
Sullivan was never an All-Star, but he scored 20 goals in eight consecutive seasons and hit the 60-point mark seven times. His comeback from a career-threatening back injury earned him the 2009 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. And at 5-foot-9 and barely 160 pounds, he was easy to cheer for — earlier this year, we named him one of the 12 NHL players who nobody hates.
But all of that pales in comparison to what may stand as the most memorable moment of Sullivan’s career: The night he struck a blow for karma by laughing in the bleeding face of a Colorado Avalanche fan.