Jimmy Howard admitted that not putting on his Detroit Red Wings goalie sweater for the first time in 15 years has been surreal.
The former University of Maine All-American enjoyed an impressive 14-year career with one of the Original Six National Hockey League franchises. He ranks in the top three in several career statistical categories.
But the Red Wings didn’t extend his contract after a disappointing 2019-20 season and Howard announced his retirement earlier this month.
The 36-year-old had opportunities to sign with other teams, including an offer from former Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who is the GM and president of hockey operations with the Edmonton Oilers.
“With the state that we’re in with the pandemic, I didn’t want to leave and not be able to see my wife and kids,” Howard said. “It’s so nice to be just dad instead of Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.”
Howard and wife Rachel (Miller) have four children.
“I sat Rachel down the first week of December and told her I was done getting hit by pucks,” he said.
Howard loves being able to spend more time with his family.
He is the head coach of 9-year-old James IV’s hockey team and an assistant coach for 6-year-old Henry’s team. The Howards’ other children are Olivia, 2, and 10-month old Louis.
James and Henry are forwards, not goalies, and that is fine by their father.
“Scoring goals is where the money is,” quipped Howard, who is enjoying life at home.
“I have been doing little things around the house, whatever needs to be done. I’d much rather do this than be stuck in some hotel room,” he said.
Howard retired as the Red Wings’ all-time leader in save percentage (.912) and ranks third in goals-against average (2.62) among goalies who appeared in at least 200 games. He is third in games played (543) and wins (246) and is fourth with 24 shutouts.
“I am so thankful and honored to be part of such a great organization and to be able to spend all 14 years with one organization,” he said.
Howard is grateful to have worked with people like Holland, former director of scouting Jim Nill, his goalie coaches and head coaches Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill.
Babcock was the head coach from 2005-15 before Blashill succeeded him.
“Mike let me develop at my own pace,” said Howard, who won the starting job in 2009.
Howard also appreciates longtime goalie coach Jim Bedard, who recommended Detroit pursue him after watching him play for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad.
The Los Angeles Kings showed the most interest in Howard prior to the 2003 NHL draft. Howard also had a brief meeting with the Red Wings that he didn’t think went particularly well.
The Kings had three first-round picks and a second-round selection that year at No. 44 overall but they passed on him. The Red Wings drafted Howard in the second round (64th overall).
One of his career highlights was his first career victory, against the Kings in Los Angeles, during the 2005-06 season. The three-time All-Star said winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 was memorable, even though he played only four games for Detroit that year.
After spending most of the season with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League, Howard was able to have the Cup for a day and celebrate with family and friends in his hometown of Ogdensburg, New York.
He earned his way to the NHL with three outstanding years at UMaine, where he is the career leader in GAA (1.84), save percentage (.931) and shutouts (15). He also owns the single-season records (1.19 GAA, .956 save pct. during 2003-04) and twice posted six shutouts in a season.
Howard said his time at UMaine, where he was tutored by legendary assistant coach Grant Standbrook, played a “massive” role in his career.
“I was able to come into Maine and make an impact right away. I had awesome teammates and we got to play in a Frozen Four. I loved the three years I was there,” he said.
UMaine lost to Denver 1-0 in the 2004 NCAA championship game in Boston after winning a 2-1 triple-overtime thriller over Massachusetts in the Hockey East championship game, during which Howard made a school-record 63 saves.
“That is a highlight that will stick forever,” Howard said.
His time spent with Standbrook will always be special.
“He’s the best. He’s the reason I went to Maine,” Howard said.
It has been a whirlwind since he announced his retirement.
“I never expected to have so many people congratulate me,” he said. “I don’t know how to put it into words. It has been phenomenal.”
Howard loves coaching youngsters and said Osgood, who coaches in the Little Caesars hockey program in the Detroit area, has given him a lot of useful coaching tips.
“You keep sending the kids messages and when it clicks, it is so rewarding,” Howard said.
He looks forward to bringing the family to Phillips Lake this summer and playing his favorite role: dad.