GLENDALE, Ariz. Brett Hull choked back emotion and thanked ''everyone who ever touched my life in the game,'' announcing his retirement Saturday from a career that left him the third-leading goal scorer in NHL history.
''I wish no one had to do this because it's so hard, it's hard because you never think you're going to grow older and be unable to live up to the expectations you set for yourself,'' he said.
The 41-year-old Hull, who had one assist in five games for the Phoenix Coyotes in his 20th NHL season, had to stop to gain control of his emotions, with his three children, fiance and several former teammates looking on.
''There's an old expression, and I don't know who said it 'The mind is willing but the body isn't,''' Hull said.
Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky is one of his best friends, yet Hull found his minutes on the ice diminishing.
''I realized I wasn't who I thought I was,'' Hull said. ''I wasn't Brett Hull at 30 or 35 even. I was 41 years old and after a year and a half layoff, I didn't have what it took to play in the new game that was so exciting.''
Hull's announcement came two hours before the Coyotes faced his former team, the Detroit Red Wings.
''The National Hockey League will miss Brett's skill, his scoring touch and his fun-loving attitude,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. ''He was a splendid athlete, a passionate player and someone who never hesitated to speak his mind. His achievements further cement the Hull family legacy of hockey greatness.''
Hull signed with the Coyotes on Aug. 6, 2004, lured by Gretzky, who was leaning toward becoming the team's coach.
There was no 2004-05 season, though, because of the NHL lockout. When Hull joined the team, he found it hard to keep up with the younger players.
''Unfortunately, the lockout probably affected him as much or more than anyone,'' Gretzky said.
Only Gretzky and Gordie Howe have more goals than Hull in NHL history.
''I was probably more emotional today about him retiring than I was the day I retired,'' Gretzky said. ''It's a new beginning for him and his family. I told him today he's going to look forward with a lot of great times with his kids and his fiance. His records speak for themselves. He's a consumate professional. My dad told me today that I ran 800 goal scorer out of hockey.''
Before the Coyotes' home opener a week ago, Hull's father, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, had his number ''un-retired'' so his son Brett could wear it this season. The Hulls are the only father-son players to each top 600 goals.
Hull had 741 goals and 650 assists in the former Minnesota-Duluth star's long NHL career with Calgary, St. Louis, Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix. He joined the league with Calgary in the 1986 Stanley Cup finals. He is second on the NHL career list for power- play goals (265) and third in game-winning goals (110).
''I don't think I've seen a better player shoot the one-timer,'' said New York Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr, whose 541 goals since the 1990-91 season are second only to Hull's 595. ''It was a gift.''
Hull won Stanley Cup titles in 1999 with Dallas and 2002 with Detroit. In 1999, he scored a controversial goal in the third overtime to give the Stars a 2-1 victory over Buffalo in the series-ending sixth game.
''I made so many friends, had so many good times,'' he said.
Hull played in nine All-Star games and was the league MVP in 1991. Hull played for the United States in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, as well as in three World Cups. He was part of the gold medal World Cup team in 1996.
Brendan Shanahan, who played with Hull in St. Louis and Detroit, called him ''a guy who spoke his mind, a colorful guy.''
''A lot of the changes that are being made in the NHL, he should get a lot of credit for,'' Shanahan said. ''He's been talking about these things for the last 10 years.''
Hull said he wanted to stay in the game, perhaps in management, but never as a coach.
''I don't care what anyone says,'' he said, ''it's the best sport there is.''
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