It's been six years since Bret Hedican laced up the skates and put on a Team USA hockey jersey in Olympic competition. Nevertheless, the hairs on his arm still rise every time the Olympic flame is lit.
"You listen to the athletes talk about walking into opening ceremonies, representing [our] country and for me that just gets the hair on my arms to stand up," Hedican said prior to the start of the Olympic Summer Games in London.
The two-time Olympian and 17-year NHL star was in Colorado Springs Friday night with his wife and fellow Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi as part of the Olympic Downtown Celebration in Colorado Springs, the home of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We just cherish the Olympic Games and we go to the Olympic Games when we can because it's that Olympic spirit of the athlete and the world is all uniting at one time," Hedican said.
"For us to be here in Colorado Springs to be apart of that lighting of the torch to kind of kick the games off here in America in a place where the USOC is and USA Hockey and U.S. Figure Skating is all housed is really a special moment for our Olympic family."
The "Olympic Family" had the honor of lighting the Olympic torch in the hometown of the United States Olympic Committee as the London Games opening ceremonies were televised on a 15-by-27 feet high definition TV on Tejon Street behind them. The duo also signed autographs as part of a series of events taking place, which included a synthetic ice surface for young hockey players and figure skaters to use in celebration of Team USA courtesy of USA Hockey, U.S. Figure Skating and USA Curling.
Yamaguchi was all smiles as a group of young figure skaters rushed over to her for autographs while her and Hedican watched their two daughters, Emma Yoshiko and Keara Kiyomi, skate on the synthetic ice surface.
"It's amazing and fun," Yamaguchi said. "We both have fond memories of the Olympics and are honored to have been Olympians. To be here so close to headquarters where so much Olympic spirit is alive and to celebrate the London Games start is great."
Hedican and Yamaguchi met briefly during the 1992 Winter Olympics. Yamaguchi went on to international skating stardom with a stunning gold-medal performance in figure skating, while Hedican and Team USA barely missed out on a medal in Albertville, France.
On more than one occasion Friday night Hedican, currently a San Jose Sharks analyst for Comcast SportsNet Calfornia, said that playing in the Olympics was a goal he had since he was a young boy.
"My dream started when I was 10 years old. I wanted to become an Olympian," Hedican said. "I will never forget that moment of knowing your walking into opening ceremonies and [then] there you are playing at a high-level with a bunch of other Americans from all over.
"You're walking into opening ceremonies with your fellow teammates and countrymen and that's when it resonates and you think back to when it all started when that dream really began and how that journey has brought you to that moment."
The St. Paul, Minn., native added to his impressive hockey resume 14 years later when he suited up again for Team USA at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Earlier in the day Hedican was able to take a trip down memory lane with his wife and children at the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. It was the first time the family was able to see Yamaguchi's gold medals.
"For my daughters, and for me, to see her gold medals for the first time was a special moment for us," Hedican said. "I think our kids know Mommy is famous but to finally see that medal is pretty special."
Beyond international competition, Hedican spent 17 years in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and the Anaheim Ducks. After coming up short of winning the Stanley Cup with the Canucks in 1994 and Carolina in 2002, Hedican would eventually hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in 2006 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
"To raise the Stanley Cup it's one of those accomplishments you have a hard time describing because it's so special," Hedican said. "All of the people that helped you along the way flash through your mind in quick snapshots."
Hedican has remained involved with USA Hockey and believes the growth of hockey in America is only getting better.
"With any house you need a strong foundation and USA Hockey is doing a great job of building the strong foundation for these kids with the American Development model and playing cross-ice hockey," he said. "For them to do all those little things at the ground level is only going to help our game tremendously in the future."
Yamaguchi said that after all these years Hedican's passion for hockey is still just as strong.
"He grew up spending all day at the outdoor rink in his neighborhood. He loves the sport and he really has a great way of working with kids, explaining and talking with them," Yamaguchi said. "He loves it and we feel lucky to have had the support we had."
With his love and passion for the game still in tact Hedican says he wouldn't rule out a chance to eventually get involved coaching, and next week will get his first opportunity with the U.S. Women's National Team.
"I might be helping out coaching the women's national program in Blaine, Minn. next week," he said, "so I'm excited about having my first real opportunity to do some coaching."