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Last of helmetless players retires

April 29, 1997 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The end of the St. Louis Blues’ season also means the long overdue end of an era in the NHL.

Center Craig MacTavish, the last player to go without a helmet, announced his retirement Tuesday. He did not endorse his style choice.

``Whether someone else would choose to go without one, I hope not,″ MacTavish said. ``I hope not, for their sake.

``Certainly, it’s very dangerous out there without a helmet.″

MacTavish, who just completed his 16th season, didn’t have to wear a helmet because he played before the NHL mandated head gear in 1979-80. He broke in that season with Boston.

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All players back then were allowed to decide for themselves, although they were required to sign a waiver stating they wouldn’t hold the league responsible for a head injury. MacTavish, 38, said he’s lucky he wasn’t seriously hurt.

``That’s something I’m thankful and grateful for, that I’ve gotten out of the game with my health.″

So why go without a helmet all those years?

``It was just a comfort thing for me,″ he said. ``I tried putting one on one year (1988-89) and ended up having my best career year offensively, and we won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton, but for whatever reason I took it off the following year.″

MacTavish played on four Stanley Cup champions, three with the Oilers and one with the New York Rangers in 1994. He was the Blues’ best faceoff man this season and had two goals and five assists in 50 games.

In 1,093 career regular season games, he had 213 goals and 267 assists for 479 points, along with 891 penalty minutes.

``I’m not ready to take a trip down memory lane just yet,″ he said. ``It’s getting increasingly difficult for me, and I think it’s time to say good-bye.″

Of the Blues’ six playoff games this season, MacTavish played in only one.

``It’s unfortunate he didn’t get more playing time in the playoffs,″ coach Joel Quenneville said. ``I feel bad I didn’t get to play him the last game, but I didn’t think that was going to be our last game.″

MacTavish said he wants to stay in the game in some capacity.

``I’ll look for opportunities in hockey, and hopefully one will present itself,″ he said. ``I’ll be exploring as many opportunities and avenues as I possibly can.″

Blues goalie Grant Fuhr played with MacTavish on three of those Cup winners in Edmonton.

``MacTavish has been a great player for a long time,″ Fuhr said. ``To last as long as he did, you’ve accomplished something.″