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After long road back, Kimmo Timonen ready to go out on his terms

The easy thing to do — the logical thing to do — would have been for Kimmo Timonen to just retire. He was 39 years old. He had played nearly 1,100 games in the NHL. He was a four-time All-Star and a five-time Olympian. He had made more than $50 million in his career. He was already an icon in his native Finland.

Laid up in a hospital bed in Finland in early August with potentially life-threatening blood clots in his right leg and both lungs, and facing six months off the ice and on blood thinners, it only made sense for Timonen to call it a career and focus on his health, and on the next stage of his life.

But, then, logic never won anybody a Stanley Cup. It takes a certain kind of irrational drive, an inexplicable obsession, to put yourself through the physical and mental grind of hockey — especially in Timonen’s situation.

“It would have been really easy [to retire], and I’m sure there are a lot of people saying, ’Is that guy crazy? What is he doing?’” Timonen said. “But lets put it this way. If I had won the Stanley Cup before, then I probably wouldn’t be here. Then it would have been easy to say, ‘I’ve won it, I’ve done it.’ But I haven’t. So that is the driving factor here. That’s why I’m here.”

So after talking to as many doctors as he could, and hearing that there was even a small chance he could play again and make one last run at a championship — he already had signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, and already had decided to retire following that season when he first noticed the pain in his calf — Timonen committed himself to doing everything the doctors told him, and making sure he had one last hurrah on the ice.

Seven months later, Timonen has that chance, and trying to make the most of every bit of it.

“This is it,” he said. “I’m enjoying it every day, every practice, hanging out with the boys, because that’s going to end — hopefully in three or four months. … Odds were probably against me even coming back, so I’m just happy to be here on a good team, in a good city, playing in front of great fans, and to have a really good chance to do something great here.”

One game into his Blackhawks career, Timonen’s still adjusting to life in Chicago. He’s staying in the same hotel as fellow Finn Teuvo Teravainen, and the rookie — nearly 20 years his junior — is driving him around and helping him get the lay of the land both inside and outside the Hawks dressing room.

Timonen, who turns 40 on March 18, said Teravainen “could be my son.” Teravainen said Timonen “is like Dad to me.”

“He’s seen the world, he’s played 1,000 games, he’s got the experience, so it’s nice,” Teravainen said. “At the same time, I’ve been driving him around and he’s like the new guy here, so he’s asking me the questions — what’s going on there and there. It’s kind of nice [to have the] older guy asking me the questions now. I’ve been the one asking everyone what’s going on. Now I know something.”

Teravainen has helped ease Timonen’s transition. It’s hard enough to come back from six months off the ice. And it’s hard enough to get comfortable with new teammates and a new city. Timonen is doing both at the same time. Monday’s game against Carolina was his first game since April 30 of last season, and while he acquitted himself well in more than 17 minutes of ice time, he felt the effect of the time off.

“It’s kind of like the preseason to me,” he said. “You hate to say that, but your body gets a little sore after one game, and you just have to make sure you take care of yourself and work hard every day. I just need more games.”

He’s got five weeks and 18 games left, starting Friday against Edmonton, to get his legs back, and his timing back, and his confidence back. Then, his career could be over in two weeks, or two months. There’s no long-term plan here. All he knows is that once the season’s over, he’ll head back to his home in Philadelphia and figure it out from there. Maybe he’ll coach. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll step away from the game for a couple of years.

One thing he won’t do is have any regrets. Not after the long, difficult and frightening road that took him from a hospital bed in Finland to a dressing room in Chicago. Whether or not he finally wins that elusive Stanley Cup this June, he’ll at least get to go out on his terms.

“I wanted to retire with my skates on, not my shoes,” he said. “That was always my goal.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus