|Montreal's Alex Kovalev is about to gain membership into the 1,000th NHL game fraternity.
While Modano is chasing Phil Housley’s scoring record for American-born players early this season, several players will be approaching significant benchmarks of their own. Five players – Roman Hamrlik, Alex Kovalev, Bryan Smolinski, Mike Sillinger and Owen Nolan – are on the cusp of dressing in their 1,000th NHL game.
“I’m not thinking about 1,000 games,” Kovalev told NHL.com. “I’m thinking ahead to 2,000 games. But I’m going to play in 1,000 games. That’s a long time in the League.”
Modano needs seven points to set his record, but some of the above names are much closer to their own milestone with Hamrlik set to play in game No. 1,000 the first night of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s already played in 999 games, while Canadiens teammates Smolinski (992) and Kovalev (991) are not far behind.
Smolinski could reach 1,000 games by Oct. 22 against the Boston Bruins, while Kovalev could reach the mark as early as Oct. 26 against Carolina.
“I probably could have done it a long time ago if I didn’t miss all those games because of injuries,” Kovalev said, pointing to the biggest factor in players being able to play in 1,000 NHL games.
Gordie Howe is the all-time leader with 1,767 games played.
Nolan, 35, the first-overall pick in the 1990 Draft, also has played in 991 games going into the new season, while Sillinger, 36, taken No. 11 overall by Detroit in 1989, has played in 990. Nolan could reach 1,000 by Oct. 22 against the San Jose Sharks, while Sillinger could hit the milestone in the New York Islanders’ Nov. 1 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s going to happen here in the next month, I guess the start of November,” Sillinger says. “I haven’t thought much about it right now, but it’s obviously . . . last year we reminisced about it a little bit. Just thinking how many guys have gotten there and accomplished that. It’s quite an accomplishment, obviously, and you just thank your lucky stars for staying healthy and playing a great game.”
Health, these guys say, is the most important factor in sticking around this long. It also helps to be a pretty decent player, too. Kovalev is going into his 15th NHL season, while Hamrlik and Smolinski are 14-year veterans and Nolan and Sillinger are going into their 16th NHL seasons.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said the Islanders’ Trent Hunter, who has played in 244 NHL games. “I’m nowhere close to that, and it still feels like I’ve been playing a long time. For ‘Silly’ to be coming up on 1,000, it tells a lot about him and what kind of guy he is and what kind of player he is, to be able to play that long in this League. I know a lot of the guys are excited for him, and it’s nice to see.”
While reaching 1,000 games is a special accomplishment for these five players, it also rubs off on the younger players they share a dressing room with. Even Sillinger said he couldn’t have lasted this long without the lessons he picked up from veterans he played with throughout his career. Sillinger, who came into the NHL with the Red Wings, puts Steve Yzerman at the top of that list.
As important as 1,000 games is to these five players, it’s also an accomplishment their younger teammates can only hope to match one day.
“Having guys like Hamrlik, Smolinski and Kovy, who have all played or are going to play 1,000 games pretty soon here, is huge not only on the ice, but in the locker room with what they bring,” said Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek, with 220 NHL games under his belt. “They always have unique insight on the game and their perspective. So they’ve been around a while. Those guys are a wealth of knowledge.
“I don’t know what I’m at now, but when you start looking too far back or too far ahead, that’s when you get yourself in trouble,” he said. “I’m going to take it one game at a time and hopefully I’ll get to play that long.”
It takes a lot to reach 1,000 games. You need skill, you need to stay healthy, you need to bring something to the table to last that long. But you also have to be able to retain some of your youth in a young man’s game.
“I think obviously staying in top condition,” Sillinger said when asked about the key factors in reaching the 1,000-game mark. “I’ve been on a lot of different teams, and with each team you play for, you take bits and pieces from star players and whatnot. I’ve been fortunate to have played with a lot of great players around the League and obviously the big thing is the conditioning. You look at the elite players in the League and you see the top condition they’re in, you see these guys play for 10-15 years and the reason why they do it is, first of all, they keep themselves in great condition. That’s how they stay injury free. I think they go hand-in-hand.
“You get a lot of good advice along the way,” he added. “Everyone tells you, you talk to all the alumni and the guys that have played the game a long time, that’s one thing they say. They say play as long as you can – and they say that for a reason.”