“Officially, this is it,” he said in a Twitter post. “It’s been a great honour and privilege to play in the best league in the world since I was 18 years old. The journey has been nothing short of spectacular, amazing and unbelievable.”
After thanking his NHL teams, Gaborik ended his tweet with a final nod to the place where it all began – home. “Last but not least, thank you Dukla Trencin for teaching me the best game there is.”
Gaborik’s resume in both the NHL and international circuits have been enough to rank him as one of the most exciting and skilled players of his generation. In his prime, few could skate or stickhandle with the same brilliance as he showed night in, night out. He played at two U18 World Championships and two World Juniors, earning a bronze medal in both events in 1999, before being drafted a lofty 3rd overall by the expansion Minnesota Wild in 2000, the highest drafted Slovak ever.
Gaborik made the team at his first training camp as an 18-year-old and burst into the league with his brilliant play. He scored 18 goals as a rookie, including the first goal in Wild history, and then had consecutive 30-goal seasons, failing to reach that plateau a third year running because of contract problems with the team. He scored a career high 42 goals in 2007/08, but after eight years he signed with the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. Still, he remains the all-time scorer in Wild history to this day, a feat highlighted by the game of 20 December 2007, when he joined a very exclusive club by scoring five goals in a game.
He scored 42 goals in his first year with the Blueshirts and 41 two years later, but he was traded to Columbus during his fourth season. From there he went to Los Angeles where he helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2013/14. He led the playoffs with 14 goals that spring and just a few weeks later signed a 7-year, $34 million contract with the Kings.
Injuries had long been his nemesis, however. A groin injury and shoulder problems caused him to miss extended periods of time early in his career, and later more health issues reduced his production and slowed his effectiveness on ice. He was traded to Ottawa early in 2018, but after only 16 games underwent back surgery, which was his final undoing.
In all, Gaborik played 1,035 regular-season games in the NHL and had 407 goals and 815 points in 17 seasons. He scored 30 or more goals seven times and is fifth in scoring in NHL history among Slovakian players. He won the fastest skater contest at his first All-Star Game in 2003 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game in 2012 in Ottawa.
More important than the numbers, Gaborik was a hero in Slovakia. He represented his country at the Olympics in 2006 and 2010, and was one of the few players who appeared at both the 2004 and 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournaments. He also played at the World Championship six times, the most impressive of which was 2004 in Prague when the team came within a goal of winning the bronze medal.
At the 2010 Olympics, the Slovaks also came within a whisker of what would have been one of the greatest upsets ever, falling to Canada, 3-2, in the semi-finals, 3-2, after coming tantalizingly close to tying the game. In the end, they fell to Finland in that bronze-medal game as well.
In 2005, Gaborik provided the financing for a new arena in Trencin, which was named in his honour, and he continues to support and attend the hockey schools run out of the Arena Mariana Gaborika. To those in North America, he will be remembered for his speed and brilliant snap shot, but in Slovakia he will remain a national treasure for years to come.