Patrick Marleau's emotional farewell to record-breaking NHL career

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Sharks legend Marleau's emotional farewell to hockey originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Perhaps no NHL player has earned more of a proper sendoff into retirement than Patrick Marleau.

The league's all-time leader in games played officially announced the end of his hockey career Tuesday in a press conference at SAP Center, the building where he spent 21 of his 23 NHL seasons.

It was an afternoon filled with emotion, and one Marleau finished off with a perfect three-word goodbye to the sport he loves.

“Thank you, hockey,” Marleau said as he choked up before receiving a standing ovation from former teammates and Sharks fans in attendance.

With an NHL-record 1,779 regular-season games and another 195 playoff tilts to his name, Marleau will be remembered as the NHL's iron man. But in San Jose, he's "Mr. Shark." Marleau retires as the franchise's all-time leader in games played (1,607), goals (522), game-winning goals (101) and points (1,111). He also served as captain in San Jose for five seasons in 2003-04 and again from 2005-09.

Since he debuted as an 18-year-old on Oct. 10, 1997, Marleau helped grow the popularity of hockey in the Bay Area and instill a winning culture in San Jose. The Sharks made the postseason in 17 of his 21 seasons with the team and advanced to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final in his 18th campaign on the ice.

"Exceptional skater in all facets," Sharks interim general manager Joe Will said of Marleau's qualities as a player Tuesday. "Extremely mesomorphic with exceptional power qualities. Blue-collar work ethic. … Today, they’re known as Marleau standards."

Following his tearful goodbye to hockey, the Sharks surprised Marleau with video messages from former teammates Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.

"I don’t think you’ll ever understand the impact you made on me as a player, as a person," Pavelski said. "I always get the question, ‘Why are you still playing at a high level?’ One of the things I go back to is learning from a guy like yourself and seeing it every day right from Day 1. The impact you’ve left on your teammates and left on me is incredible."

"All-time leader in games played in NHL history," Thornton added. "You scored over 500 goals. Crazy. Fourteenth all-time in postseason goals. You did it when it mattered. You were loved by your teammates. We all love you so much. Enjoy retirement, my friend. You’ve earned it."

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In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California's Randy Hahn, Marleau expanded on his relationship with Thornton, his teammate of 12 years who is currently battling in the NHL playoffs with the Florida Panthers.

"Who doesn't like Joe, right? We got along pretty good right away," Marleau recalled. "Our paths kept crossing. We got drafted together, won world championships together, and finally he got traded to [San Jose]. ... Being able to play with him on the ice, he's a great passer and great player he is. He helped me out so much in my game alone, so I owe a lot to him."

What's next for Marleau? An eventual trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame seems likely. But before that, Sharks president Jonathan Becher confirmed the organization's plans to retire Marleau's No. 12 jersey next season.

"I'm sure we'll have the opportunity to do something appropriate next year once we know what the season schedule looks like," he said.

Marleau's retirement press conference will air again on NBC Sports California at approximately 5 p.m. Tuesday following the conclusion of A's Postgame Live.