Trent McCleary's improbable comeback bid came to an end Wednesday when the Montreal Canadiens winger officially announced his retirement.

"This is a tough day," McCleary said. "I played seven full years of professional hockey and this is the toughest day of them all."

McCleary was nearly killed last Jan. 29 when he took a Chris Therien slapshot in the throat during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Molson Centre.

An emergency tracheotomy saved McCleary's life. Subsequent operations allowed the winger to regain his speech, but McCleary still suffers from a partially paralyzed vocal chord

Popular opinion doubted McCleary would make a return to the ice. But this past summer, McCleary signed a $300,000 US contract with the Canadiens and reported to training camp.

McCleary, who suffered a fractured larynx and a collapsed lung from the Jan. 29 incident, had complained of breathing difficulties during this NHL preseason.

"You always feel bad the first day of camp, all players do," McCleary said at a media conference. "I thought that it would clear up and it never did. I still had trouble breathing."

During Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins, McCleary found himself out of breath after 10 or 15 seconds on the ice. Afterwards, he was examined by team doctor David Mulder.

"I saw Dr. Mulder and he refused to clear me to play," said McCleary. "He said: `This is dangerous.'

"If I'm trapped out on the ice and can't get to the bench, my safety would be in jeopardy. Then, teams will notice it and try to keep me out there. If I can't stay out 30 or 40 seconds, I'd be useless."

Mulder said McCleary's air passage was 15 per cent narrower than before the injury.

"Our feelings were that he has recovered to the maximal point and this would prevent him from playing pro hockey the way he would like to play," Mulder said. "The only decision to make was to retire."

McCleary, a native of Swift Current, Sask., totalled 23 points in 192 NHL games.