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Comeau Proud To Play 600th Game

The Avalanche forward has had plenty of ups and downs during his time in the NHL

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Blake Comeau has seen and been through a lot in his nine-plus seasons in the NHL.

The Colorado Avalanche forward has experienced the excitement and sorrow of being called up and sent to the minors as a young player, participating in the playoffs as a veteran--only to have it end short of June--and has had good and bad years along the way, both for his teams and personally.

Through it all, Comeau carved out a spot for himself in the top tier of the sport. That hard work and resiliency has resulted in 600 NHL games, a milestone he'll reach this evening when the Avs host the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center.

"It's something I'm proud of," Comeau said after Thursday's morning skate. "You grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, and to be able to play as long as I have has been awesome. I've got to play with a lot of good players. I've got to meet a lot of good friends. The game has given me a lot. It's a milestone I'm happy I've hit. It's exciting."

The Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, native has come a long way since his teenage years when he helped a dominant Kelowna Rockets club win the Western Hockey League and advance to the Memorial Cup in three straight seasons, winning the championship in 2004.

Now 30 years old, Comeau isn't counted on to score on a nightly basis. Instead, he's become a solid contributor that can be placed throughout the lineup, especially during short-handed situations.

"I think his role with us is important. Winning the wall battle in the defensive zone, being a real trustworthy defensive player and chip in a little bit offensively," said head coach Jared Bednar of Comeau. "Obviously he's a big part of our penalty kill, and when he's out there we tend to have better success then some other guys. He's more experienced, and he can help us there as well."

Comeau's pro career began after his final season with the Rockets ended in 2005-06. He signed with the New York Islanders, the team that drafted him 47th overall in 2004, and jumped into the American Hockey League playoffs with the club's affiliate in Bridgeport.

He was in his first full pro season the following year when he got the call to the show and played in the Islanders' contest on Dec. 7, 2006 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"Pretty nerve-wracking," Comeau recalled of his first outing in the NHL. "I remember I got called up. I was pretty excited, called my parents. You pretty much go into the room, and you try and not act nervous but you really are. I think once the puck dropped and I was playing, you lose a lot of those nervous emotions and just go out and play. It was a lot of fun when I got to play that first game."

That contest made an impression on Comeau of what it would take for him to stay with the Islanders.

"I think playing in that game, I realized how hard it was to play in the NHL and what I needed to do with working on my game, taking care of myself off the ice, training in the summer," he said.

Video: Comeau talks about his 600th NHL game

Comeau appeared in two more games with New York that season before finishing the year in the AHL. He went on to play 104 NHL contests over the next two seasons but still split his time between Bridgeport and Long Island.

The 2008-09 campaign ended up being the last time he touched AHL ice, as he spent the entire next year with the Islanders and has been a regular in the NHL ever since.

The right wing had stops in Calgary, Columbus and Pittsburgh along the way, and he is now in his second year with Colorado. Comeau has dressed in all but five games during his time with the Avs--missing one last season for the birth of his daughter and four in November because of a nagging groin injury.

"I've had some disappointing seasons, and I've had seasons which have been a lot of fun," said Comeau, reflecting on his first 599 contests. "One thing I've realized as I've gone on in my career and have gotten older, I've realized how hard it is to win. You see some of those teams that have won two or three Stanley Cups in the last little while, that is something I would love to be a part of one day. You play the game to win. I've only made the playoffs a handful of times. As I've gotten older, that is something that I'm really looking to do, get back into the playoffs and try to win. We got a great group of guys in here, and hopefully we can turn things around and everyone can have a chance at it."

As with most players who start picking up milestones in bunches, they become less sponges grabbing at knowledge and more leaders to their teammate, showing how to play the game the right way. Comeau is part of that crowd and learned from some of the best.

"I had some great some older veterans that really showed me the way: Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt, a lot of guys that have really helped me out," he said. "As I've gotten older, I've played with some younger guys now, so I think I've taken a page out of those guys' book and try to help the young guys as well."

LINEUP NOTES

It's been a weird week for Matt Nieto. After being picked up on waivers from San Jose last Thursday and playing in his first game with the Avs on Friday, Nieto joined the rest of his teammates for four full days off during the NHL-mandated bye week.

A native of Long Beach, California, he went back home during that time to see family, but also to get some stuff in order for his longer stay back in Colorado.

"It's been a crazy week but couldn't be happier here, a great group of guys," Nieto said. "The break was nice, but I'm excited to be back with the group and get back to work."

Video: Matt Nieto on facing hometown teams

Nieto started Friday's game against the New York Islanders on the third line, but he ended up playing 17:29 in the contest and will get another opportunity to showcase his talents with his new club this evening. He is slated to play left wing on the second line with Matt Duchene at center and Rene Bourque at right wing.

"I'm really excited to play with those two guys," Nieto said. "They are both real good offensive players that I think I can work well with. It's a good opportunity."

Colorado's scratches tonight against the Anaheim Ducks will be forwards Joe Colborne and John Mitchell and defenseman Eric Gelinas. Semyon Varlamov will make his first start in net since injuring his groin on Dec. 22 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

ERIK JOHNSON UPDATE

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson will miss his 17th contest tonight because of a leg injury and is still weeks away from game action, according to head coach Jared Bednar.

"He's progressing. We've seen him around the rink here now. The boot is off. He's walking better," Bednar said of Johnson after Thursday's morning skate. "I think there is a plan to keep moving him forward, and hopefully he hits the ice in two weeks or so. And then it is going to take him some time from there. Missing eight weeks and that injury tends to be sore when you get it back in the boot. So we'll see how he handles it when he starts skating."

Johnson broke his fibula while blocking a shot on Dec. 3 against the Dallas Stars. The original recovery timetable was six to eight weeks.

Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference

IGINLA TO TIE YZERMAN

It's another day and another milestone for Jarome Iginla.

Iginla is set to play in his 1,514th career NHL game this evening, which will tie him for 15th place all time with Steve Yzerman, a former Avalanche rival with the Detroit Red Wings.

The Avs forward currently ranks 16th on the NHL's career goals list (616), 34th in points (1,284), 21st in power-play goals and eighth in game-winning goals (97). His next game-winner will tie him with Bobby Hull for seventh place.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Matt Nieto - Matt Duchene - Rene Bourque

Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Jarome Iginla

Andreas Martinsen - Mikhail Grigorenko - Cody McLeod

 

Fedor Tyutin - Tyson Barrie

Nikita Zadorov - Patrick Wiercioch

Francois Beauchemin - Cody Goloubef

 

Semyon Varlamov

Calvin Pickard

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