When you look back over Paul Kariya’s impressive career, most would assume his personal highlight might be a Stanley Cup Final, an NHL All-Star Game, or perhaps an Olympic gold medal. They all rank highly, but at the top is a moment you might not expect.

“For me, I don’t think there’s any bigger honour in sport than representing your country,” Kariya said. “And the pinnacle of that is the Olympics. To me, the absolute peak of my career was playing forCanada as an amateur at the 1994 Olympics. Walking into the stadium in the Opening Ceremonies among hockey players, figure skaters, curlers, downhill skiers, it was just unbelievable.”

The ultimate dream realized at age 19, there was still so much more awaiting one of the greatest hockey players born and raised in BC.

Growing up in North Vancouver, Kariya’s parents, both great athletes themselves—Sharon a Highland dancer, T.K. a Canadian national rugby player—encouraged Paul and his four siblings to try all sports. They constantly pushed one another to learn and improve.

“There wasn’t a day in our house growing up where there wasn’t some form of competition going on,” Kariya said. “Even now when I go home to visit, we play Jenga, and you’d think it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.”

Hockey emerged as his sport of choice. The blazing speed that so characterized his NHL career was developed from early figure skating forays in tiny Bauer tube skates at Karen Magnussen Arena. Later, he worked diligently on a stingingly accurate shot, peppering the backyard shed with pucks until it barely stood upright. Playing minor hockey at North Shore and Burnaby Winter Clubs, Kariya patterned his play after Wayne Gretzky. Later, he’d be voted to start his first of seven NHL All-Star Games alongside The Great One and another idol, Brett Hull.

Well-drilled in the value of education from his parents—both schoolteachers—after two dominant seasons with the BCJHL’s Penticton Panthers, Kariya earned an athletic scholarship at the University of Maine. In his first season, he led the Black Bears to the NCAA title and won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top collegiate player, the first freshman to win the honour.

Drafted 4th overall by the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993, Kariya began a 15-season NHL career that later took him to Colorado, Nashville, and St. Louis. Despite missing long stretches due to injuries, he compiled an impressive 989 points in 989 regular season games. His best years were captaining Anaheim and forming one of the NHL’s most dangerous lines with ‘mental twin’ Teemu Selanne and Steve Rucchin. Kariya’s Japanese heritage made him a star overseas as well as at home, where he made a cameo appearance in the 1996 film D3: The Mighty Ducks.
A two-time winner of the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy, Kariya was a three-time First All-Star and two-time Second All-Star team selection. Just nine years after entering the NHL as an expansion team, he led Anaheim to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final and took eventual-champion New Jersey to the limit in a memorable seven-game series.

Internationally, Kariya played significant roles for Team Canada at two Olympics Games, winning silver in 1994 as Canada’s leading scorer and helping bring home the nation’s first Olympic hockey gold in fifty years in 2002 playing on a line with legend Mario Lemieux. He also helped Canada end a 33-year world championship drought in 1994 and was named the tournament’s best forward.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.