BLOOMINGTON — Marco Emond’s professional hockey career began as an emergency backup goaltender in 1998 in Topeka, Kan.
It ended in similar fashion Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Coliseum as Emond was the backup goaltender for his final game as a pro after surprising the Bloomington Blaze of his decision to retire.
“Since winning the championship in Colorado in 2007, every year has been ‘Is this the last one?’ ” Emond said. “I’m 34 years old and I’ve been doing this for 14 years. It’s time.”
Emond said he plans to join his father’s residential renovation business near Montreal.
“I felt my body starting to change last year during (training) camp,” he said. “It’s not hard to play the game, but the practices every day and the traveling take their toll. Taking that into consideration with my dad wanting me to come and help out, I think it’s the right decision.”
The Blaze started the season by losing 12 of the first 14 games, including a 12-game losing streak. Emond, who has never had a season with a record below .500, has shouldered an 0-8-1 record with a 3.74 goals against average in 10 starts.
“I’m not bailing because the team is not doing well,” he said. “With the opportunity to make money 12 months out of the year, the time is right. Even if we would have been 8-3, I would still have to consider the opportunity. If I’m 27 years old, I don’t retire.”
Emond caught his teammates and coach Paul Gardner off-guard with his decision.
“When I took over here, you look at the roster and the last thing I worried about was goaltending because you’ve got Marco,” Gardner said. “It’s a big hole to fill.”
“It’s surprising to see your top goalie leave,” forward Jon Booras said. “Nobody really saw it coming. But you understand where he’s coming from. He’s got a job to go to with his family.”
Emond concludes his career with a 208-128-4 record, three championship rings and United Hockey League’s most valuable player trophy from the 2002-03 season.
Emond went 25-15-2 last season with a 2.80 GAA for the Bloomington PrairieThunder, the first Bloomington team to reach the postseason. He said that will go down as one of his more memorable seasons in his career.
“We didn’t have a coach and had just six players,” Emond said. “Then Jason Christie shows up and did a great job of getting us to play together. We finished three points out of first place. That was something that was pretty neat.”
Gardner said Kalemba becomes the team’s top goaltender while he works to sign a second netminder. He added that he plans to add an emergency backup from Oklahoma City to be with the team for games at Tulsa tonight and at Evansville on Sunday.
Emond said the decision was difficult beyond hockey. A single father, he lives in Bloomington with his 10-year-old daughter, Joelle. She is a fifth-grader in the Unit 5 school district.
While Emond will move to his native Quebec, Joelle will return to her mother, Jonah Monet, in Mississippi. She will finish the fifth grade there before eventually rejoining Emond.
“Joelle knows some French, but not enough,” Emond said. “She can finish off (fifth grade) at a good school where her mom lives, learn more French through Rosetta Stone and then come back to me next summer. That will make the transition much easier for her.
“It’s not an easy decision. There were a lot of tears this morning.”
Gardner said he first had a raised eyebrow about Emond considering retirement after an innocuous comment by Joelle earlier this week.
“His daughter goes to school with my kids,” Gardner said. “When she said the word ‘retire’, I thought she’s 10 years old and she just had the wrong word for some reason. That was the first I heard it, until Marco came in here (Wednesday) afternoon to discuss it.”
Emond admitted that the Blaze’s difficult start as an organization had an impact on how the team has played early.
“It was hard because of all of the commotion,” Emond said. “They’re doing the right things now. I think any team would like to have more fans here, but I think it’s only going to get better as it goes along.
“I very much enjoyed my time here. It was a great ride.”