By RYAN MCCRACKEN on January 13, 2021.
Medicine Hat Tigers alumnus Jay Bouwmeester has officially announced his retirement after a 1,240-game playing career in the National Hockey League.
Bouwmeester, 37, spent his 17-season NHL career with the Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues, and went on to help St. Louis win its first Stanley Cup in 2019.
The veteran defenceman’s career took a scary turn on Feb. 11, 2020, when Bouwmeester suffered a ‘cardiac episode’ and collapsed on the bench during a game against the Anaheim Ducks. Bouwmeester had not played since that incident.
Prior to entering the NHL in 2002 as Florida’s third overall draft pick, Bouwmeester spent more than three seasons on the blue line in Medicine Hat.
While he never coached Bouwmeester, Medicine Hat Tigers bench boss and general manager Willie Desjardins – who first joined up with the Tigers in 2002-03 – says a player like Bouwmeester can leave a lasting impact on a junior team for decades to come.
“I think history is such an important part of any organization. I think players who come before, they lay the culture for the guys who are coming now. The best thing for a coach is being able to say as an example, ‘Well, you need this guy, the way this guy played or the way that guy played,’ and it’s always great when you have somebody in your organization that has done great things and been a great teammate,” said Desjardins. “You can talk about it with your players, if you have a young defenceman you can say to look at Jay Bouwmeester, for sure he’s a talented player but he cared about his teammates, they were important to him. It wasn’t just about him, it was about the team. He learned to adjust, he learned not to just be an offensive player, he learned to play a complete game and he always battled.”
The Tigers failed to reach the playoffs during Bouwmeester’s entire stretch in the Gas City, but the Edmonton product still managed to rack up 151 points over 194 games, including 61 points in as many nights in 2001-02 – a year the Tigers finished with a 30-36-4-2 record.
“I think the unfortunate part for him is that it certainly ended sooner than he wanted, but he left a great legacy,” said Desjardins. “I think that’s the one thing you always want – have you left some kind of a legacy? He left his mark on the game with the way he played and how he played.”
The News reached out to the Blues for comment from Bouwmeester but did not receive a response by press time.