Paul Kariya: Ice Knight

Paul Kariya has won hero worship among hockey fans by embodying the tiger combination of courage and nobility.

In the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals a hard check sent Kariya to the ice. Dazed, he lay on there for several minutes, then was forced to retire to the locker room. He returned later that game to score, giving the Ducks a 4–1 lead and the win. The Ducks went on to lose the 7-game series but Kariya’s performance wasn’t forgotten. His toughness combined with irreproachable sportsmanship twice won Kariya the Lady Byng Award as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, in 1995-96 and 1996-97.

The fighting spirit runs in Kariya’s family. His younger sister Noriko is a professional boxer who has fought several times at Madison Square Garden. The 5-1 bantamweight compiled a 9-1 record before turning pro in 2005. Paul’s two younger brothers are both professional hockeyr players in Europe.

“I get tired of telling people they’re my brothers,” says Noriko, a 5-1, 118 pound bantamweight. She displays a bit of fighting spirit even toward her famous brothers. “I smile when people ask, but I don’t want people to ask. Till people follow women’s boxing, not because you’re someone’s daughter or sister, but because you’re talented.”

Once while Paul was playing for the Nashville Predators at Continental Arena, Noriko went to watch. She sat only 11 rows up from the visitors’ bench but she bought her own ticket and never told him she was there. Even after the Predators beat the Devils in a shootout, she didn’t even go down to say hello.

“I’m not very close with any of my brothers,” Noriko said. “My family is extremely private and boxing is a brash sport. We’re half Japanese, and we’re very quiet, very humble, very private.”

None of the Kariya brothers have expressed enthusiasm for their sister’s career path.

“None of us are boxing fanatics,” sniffed youngest brother Martin.

“Everyone has their own space and own lives,” said middle brother Steve. “That’s how we were brought up.”

Paul has avoided the subject altogether.

Paul Tetsuhiko Kariya was born the second of five children on October 16, 1974 in Vancouver, British Columbia to a Japanese Canadian father and a Scottish Canadian mother. Paul showed exceptional promise on the ice since childhood. In the British Columbia Junior Hockey League he scored 91 goals and 153 assists for 244 points in 94 games for the Penticton Panthers.

Paul and his three younger siblings all attended the University of Maine on scholarships — the boys for ice hockey and and their sister for field hockey. Paul became the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award with 33 goals and 91 assists for 124 points in 51 games while managing to get on the dean’s list. The University of Maine won the 1992–93 NCAA and Hockey East titles in Paul Kariya’s single full season. Younger brother Steve captained Maine to the 1998–99 NCAA title. Martin led Maine to the 2002 “Frozen Four” finals.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim picked Paul Kariya fourth-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. The best of his nine seasons at Anaheim was in 1995–96 when he scored 50 goals and 58 assists for 108 points. He and Teemu Selanne became one of the NHL’s most effective duos, leading the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. One highlight of Kariya’s career came in the second period in Game 6. Taking a hard check from the New Jersey Devils’ Scott Stevens, Kariya retired to the locker room. Within a half hour he returned to score a goal that sealed the Ducks’ victory.

A salary dispute with GM Bryan Murray shows Kariya’s mercurial tiger nature. When their $10 million-a-year deal was dishonored in July of 2003, Kariya staged a 32-game strike, then took $8.5 million less to sign with the Colorado Rockies with Selanne, earning unrestricted free agency at season’s end. Unfortunately, his tiger luck ran out there. Injuries kept him from playing more than 56 games and one playoff game. He scored only 36 points.

In the first of his two seasons with the Nashville Predators in 2005–06 Kariya played all 82 games and notched the most points since the 1999–2000 season. He capped the season with a hat trick in a 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the last game of the regular season. On November 1, 2006 Kariya reached the 800-point mark.

In July of 2007 Kariya signed a three-year $18 million contract with the St. Louis Blues as one of the alternate captains. In November he injured his left hip and underwent surgery only to learn that he needed surgery on his right hip. He didn’t return until the 2009–10 season but scored two goals in his first game back.

Paul Kariya enjoys tennis, reading and playing golf, a sport in which he was so good as a teen he considered dropping hockey. He is unmarried, but has been rumored to be dating a lingerie model named Valerie for several years.

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