Saskatoon's Eric Gryba hanging up his skates after 7 seasons in the NHL

After years of playing with the Ottawa Senators, the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils,'my body wasn't performing to the expectation that I that I had,' says the 31-year-old defenceman, who has announced his NHL retirement.

'I started to lose a little bit of the love,' says Gryba, who announced his retirement on Sept. 22

Eric Gryba, shown here during his time with the Edmonton Oilers, recently announced his retirement after seven years in the NHL. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The National Hockey League season is a grind.

Teams play more than 80 games in the regular season and travel endlessly. When you are a big, physical defenceman in the NHL, 31 can feel old.

"My body wasn't performing to the expectation that I had," said Saskatoon-born Eric Gryba, who has decided to retire after seven seasons in the league.

"I started to lose a little bit of the love going to the rink every day."

After playing three seasons with the Ottawa Senators, three more with the Edmonton Oilers and the 2018-19 season with the New Jersey Devils and the AHL's Binghamton Devils, Gryba was about to lace up his skates and try again with the Calgary Flames.

But after being released by the club, he decided that the time had come to announce his retirement, which he did in a video posted to Twitter on Sept. 22.

"I had some lower back issues that were starting to rise up, and I have a daughter who is about a year old, and obviously a growing family," he said. 

"I wanted to walk away from the game and still have … a body that was reasonably in good shape and, you know, enjoy the rest of my life."

Not without controversy 

While some NHL defencemen can navigate their way through the league without too much media scrutiny, Gryba gained some notoriety early on.

In 2013, when he was playing with Ottawa, he hit Montreal's Lars Eller in a playoff game, leaving the Canadiens centre with a concussion and broken bones.

"I was a rookie and to have all that media attention and pressure … I wasn't used to that," recalled Gryba.

Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller lies injured on the ice following a hit by the Ottawa Senators' Eric Gryba (not shown) during a May 2, 2013, game. (Graham Hughes)

The controversy does not rank as a highlight for Gryba, although in retrospect he said all the media attention did force some people to, as he said, "open their eyes and say, 'This kid can play.'"

Instead, Gryba ranks a season with Edmonton — helping the Oilers to a playoff run — and making it to the second round of the playoffs as a Senator as the highlights of his NHL career. 

"I'll always cherish those memories."

Grillin' and chillin' 

For now, Gryba is spending time with his family, and is getting outdoors a little more, doing some hunting and fishing.

He's also got a TV show to think about. Grilling With Gryba airs on Wild TV, and he's expecting to tape some new segments soon.

All that said, Gryba's days in the rink may not be over. After all, he has a growing family and if one of his daughters should pick up the game, it is possible Gryba may be tapped to coach someday. 

"I don't think I'd be able to say I no, that's for sure."

Eric Gryba demonstrates a duck call. Gryba enjoys the outdoors and has a cooking show that demonstrates grilling techniques for fish and wild game. (CBC)

With files from Saskatoon Morning