Retired and Revelling
The greatest season of his career and lure of more family time gave Mike Fisher the peace he needed to walk away from the game.
Mike Fisher knew he was right where he was supposed to be — right at home — yet it wasn’t easy. He wore a fitted navy blue suit instead of a Nashville gold sweater. On his chest laid a white-dotted navy tie instead of a Predators logo. He took the ice in brown dress shoes because he’d hung up the skates he wore for 17 NHL seasons.
It was October 10 and Fisher was on hand for Nashville’s 2017-18 season opener against Philadelphia. But before they dropped the puck they raised the franchise’s first banner: Western Conference Champions 2016-17. Fisher proudly served as captain of that overachieving squad, one that snuck into the playoffs as the west’s No. 8 seed. But from there the Predators went on a run that invigorated the city and surprised the country.
Upon taking out Chicago in the first round, Nashville became the first NHL team to sweep a top seed, and actually the first squad in North American major professional sports to sweep a No. 1 seed. The Predators then proceeded to take out St. Louis in six and Anaheim in six to reach their first Stanley Cup Finals. That earned a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nashville squandered the first two games in Pittsburgh, but backed by one of the rowdiest crowds in hockey, responded with two wins at home. The buzz in Nashville reached its peak. Unfortunately, the Preds couldn’t sustain the momentum. A crushing 6-0 defeat on the road in Game 5 led to a 2-0 loss back at home — and the end of a remarkable season. They didn’t win the Cup, but they turned in the greatest season Nashville had ever seen.
Two months later, the 37-year-old Fisher called it a career. “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know I’ve made the right one,” he wrote in a letter to Predators fans. “I’ve decided to retire from the NHL.”
He was greeted warmly by those fans on October 10 as he stood on a blue carpet rolled out for the banner ceremony. Fisher was down at rink level with his former teammates, many of whom remain friends, as they walked out onto the ice. But instead of lining up with them along the blue line, he stayed behind until announcer Pete Weber called him out. Fisher stood about 40 feet across from the men he suited up with last year, and with help from current Predators captain Roman Josi (who didn’t play that night due to injury), unveiled the banner for the crowd. As it reached the Bridgestone Arena rafters and last year’s playoff anthem, “Glorious Domination,” rang out, Fisher thought maybe, just maybe, he should still be playing.
“It just kind of hits you,” he said a week and a half following that night. “You’re at the rink and it’s like, ‘Well, I could be there.'”
He certainly could. It wasn’t like he retired because his body wouldn’t let him play anymore. And no one would have questioned him for coming back to chase his first Stanley Cup after getting the closest he’d ever been. Why not try to go out on top?
As far as Fisher’s hockey career goes, last season was the pinnacle. “That was the best year, the most fun I’ve had, no question, in my career,” he says, remembering the way his team inspired and united its city. “So for me, it was like going out on a high. For sure.”
Watching his guys play on opening night was tough, but that thought of playing again was fleeting. He’s happy being one of the Predators’ biggest fans. He’s retired but not leaving Nashville, especially with his wife, Carrie Underwood, still performing as a country music superstar. He’s already enjoying life after hockey.
“The other part of [retirement] is just the excitement of being able to be with my family more and being able to do things with my son and other things that I know God has for me,” Fisher says. “I knew it was the right decision and through the whole thing someone reminded me of a verse: ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart (Colossians 3:15).’ And to me, once I knew I had that, then I knew it was the right decision.”
That’s not to say the choice was easy, or just came to him in an instant. In fact, Fisher nearly retired before the 2016-17 season that turned out to be the best of his career. It wasn’t until the Lord spoke to him one morning as he was talking to a teammate that he knew he had to come back for another year.
So Fisher played last season knowing it could be his last. And that was a frequent topic of discussion with one his mentors, Tim Burke, who is the Colorado Avalanche chaplain but also serves on staff with Hockey Ministries, the organization that oversees chapels at all levels of hockey. Burke, who pitched eight years in the major leagues, met Fisher during the 2004-05 strike season at a Hockey Ministries event, and they hit it off upon learning that one of Burke’s chaplains while he played for the Montreal Expos was Fisher’s uncle, David.
Burke travels often to meet with various NHL players, but Fisher has become one of his deeper friendships. Knowing how tough the transition to retirement can be for a professional athlete, Burke takes special interest in helping anyone navigate that path — and did even more so with Fisher.
“We’ve been talking about [retirement] for the last year and a half, actually,” Burke said this past October. “We talked about it last offseason, and he wasn’t far away from retiring last year. So we talked about it a lot and then we talked about it during the season this year a good bit. I’d just check in with him and see how he was feeling with it.”
That’s exactly what Fisher needed. “He’s been a real close friend of mine through these retirement decisions and life decisions in the last several years. He’s been one of those guys that I look to for guidance and wisdom. He’s helped me out tremendously.
“That’s [one thing] I would say to the younger kids, whether they’re in college or [younger]: just surround yourself with those types of people, because it makes all the difference in the world. If I didn’t have those people in my life, who knows where I would be.”
Those people also include his parents, Jim and Karen. Raising Mike, his two brothers, Rob and Gregory, and sister, Meredith, in Peterborough, Ontario, they were the typical hockey parents lugging kids all over for practices and games. They were Fisher’s biggest fans and never pressured him one way or another with sports. They just didn’t want to waste their time or money.
“I remember my dad saying, ‘As long as you give your best, we’re going to support you. You can play on whatever team you want, we’ll be there for you, but we just need your best effort,'” Fisher recalls. That stance continued well past juniors. “They were way more concerned about me as a person, honestly, than what I was doing with my career,” he says.
The positive family influence also came from Fisher’s cousin, Warren Robinson. Seven years older, Robinson lived with the Fishers in Peterborough when Mike was a teenager. Years later, Robinson got a job in Ottawa and provided a place to stay for his cousin, who was taken by the Senators in the second round of the 1998 NHL Draft. Fisher credits Robinson with strengthening his life off the ice, which in turn helped him mature and perform better on the ice.
“When I was about 20, 21, I was struggling,” Fisher says. “I was a young guy in the NHL making a lot of money and just trying to figure out where I fit in. I was making mistakes and just really wasn’t happy. I should have been at the pinnacle of happiness because I’m playing in the NHL; you’re living out your dream. Inside I really had a lot of guilt and shame and I wasn’t living the right way.
“So my cousin, whom I was living with at the time, kind of sensed it over time. You try and hide it, but he and I are really close. So we started doing a Bible study and he came along the side of me; he dealt with a lot of the same things in his life. And I recommitted my life to the Lord shortly after and was baptized. So he kind of walked along [with me], and he still does.”
Grounded in his faith, surrounded by family and positive influences — the keys to Fisher’s hockey success. And reasons why he’ll thrive in retirement as well.
“Mike will adjust to retired life better than anybody that I know,” Burke says. Why? “Hockey wasn’t the most important thing in his life, for one thing. And he is very independent. He’s more balanced than anybody I’ve ever known that has played sports.”
On the October morning Fisher spoke with Sports Spectrum, he took his 2-year-old son, Isaiah, to school. “And I’ll pick him up this afternoon. I could never do that stuff. So there are a lot of positives. As much as you miss [hockey], when I’m doing these things, I love it. And being able to support my wife and her career a little bit more too is awesome,” he says.
Two weeks prior, Mike, Carrie and Isaiah traveled to see Fisher’s family for Canadian Thanksgiving. It marked the first time he’d been home for the holiday in 20 years.
Most mornings now involve consistent quiet time with God. While Isaiah watches TV, Daddy and Mommy do their devotionals over breakfast — usually separate devotions done at the same time, but a routine the couple has never been able to maintain. Every other Wednesday morning, Fisher also meets with eight close friends for a men’s Bible study.
“When you’re playing and you’re traveling, it’s hard every morning to go, ‘OK, I’m going to wake up at 6:30.’ You just can’t,” Fisher says. “You wake up, you’re tired, you eat, you’re out the door, you practice, you come home, you nap while you’re traveling. It’s really hard to get into a daily routine of a [quiet] time.”
Where many athletes miss the game, Fisher is revelling in margin. What used to be a “no” can now be a “yes.” He aims to get more involved in his church, and stay active in his role as a board member for Danita’s Children, a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing the hope of Christ to Haiti. And with his brother, Rob, he plans to grow his Catchin’ Deers business, which makes hunting-themed apparel. The venture allows Fisher to follow his passion for hunting and fishing.
And when it’s time for Underwood to go back on tour, the Fisher boys can hit the road too. “I want to be the best husband and dad that I can be,” Fisher says. “I feel like being the best dad is really a calling too. I was fortunate to have great examples as far as a marriage and godly examples at home. My wife and I want to do the same for our family.”
Meanwhile, Fisher now spends many evenings like a typical male: watching sports. He has caught nearly every Predators game this season — and enjoyed them. Casually watching hockey for the first time in 18 years (one season overseas in addition to 17 in the NHL; he says he only watched scouting video during his career) hasn’t made him miss playing.
That’s because hockey was a passion of his, not his identity. Living that out was easier said than done, Fisher admits, and he knows this common identity challenge will continue to test him even in retirement.
“What’s next and can you be happy without hockey?” he asks himself. “So far, the answer is yes. Absolutely.”
Career NHL stats: 1,088 games, 276 goals, 309 assists, 585 points, 134 playoff games
Fisher’s 2017-18 NHL Predictions:
Stanley Cup Finals:
Nashville Predators vs. Washington Capitals
Vezina Trophy (top goalie):
Pekka Rinne, Nashville
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP):
Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Favorite Christian song right now?
“Gracefully Broken” by Matt Redman
“Goliath Must Fall” by Louie Giglio. That’s what I’m reading right now.
Favorite TV show?
“Dateline.” My wife and I always watch “Dateline,” we love it.
Favorite preacher or speaker?
I listen to Louie Giglio podcasts all the time, and we’re friends too.