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Hejduk Makes History

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Milan Hejduk knows there will be time for reflection on his playing career. That time is just not right now.

Even in the morning before his 1,000th NHL regular season contest, Hejduk said playing in the milestone game hadn't sunk in yet and it might not until he retires from the game.

"I think when you are done with your career then you look back," said the 36-year old Hejduk. "While your playing, you are still focusing on the next game and you try and prepare for the game."

Hejduk hit the century mark on Feb. 4 at home against the Dallas Stars, becoming the 281st player all-time in the 95-year history of the league to play in 1,000 contests. But maybe the more telling stat of Hejduk's milestone is that he is only the 30th player ever to do it with one team in his entire career.

That is a statistic that Hejduk is very proud of.

"It means more to me that I did it with one team, one organization," said Hejduk, who was drafted in the fourth round (87th overall) of the 1994 Entry Draft by the then-Quebec Nordiques. "That makes it more special."

He made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 1998 at home against the Ottawa Senators and has played in an Avalanche sweater ever since.

"The ability to stay with one club is pretty impressive," said Colorado head coach Joe Sacco. "His game on the ice has been impressive enough, but I think one of the reasons why he has stayed with this organization is because of the type of person he is, the qualities that he has and those things are hard to find."

One of those qualities might be loyalty as Hejduk hasn't even tried to go anywhere else.

"It's pretty cool when you can do it with one franchise," said teammate Matt Duchene . "It means you love where you are and they like you as well and it's a good fit for you. I've talked to him and asked him one time, 'Did you ever think about testing the [free agent] market or anything?' and he said, 'No, I love it here too much.'"

Hejduk is the first player in Avalanche team history to play in 1,000 games and is the second in franchise history to do it, joining Joe Sakic, who dressed in 1,378 contests (508 with Quebec, 870 with Colorado).

The right wing from the Czech Republic was honored before the game against the Stars in a special recognition ceremony with his wife, Zlatuse, and his two twin sons, Marek and David, who wore matching #23 jerseys, down on ice-level with him.

Sakic, a teammate of Hejduk's for 10 seasons (1998-2009) and now executive advisor and alternate governor of the team, presented him with a silver stick from the organization to recognize the accomplishment.

Hejduk is the ninth Czech-born player to skate in 1,000 games and is one of five active players, joining Roman Hamrlik, Jaromir Jagr, Vinny Prospal and Patrik Elias.

"He's probably one of the best players that we have had in the Czech Republic," said fellow Czech and teammate Jan Hejda. "Especially for being a small country and a 1,000 games in the NHL, I'm proud of him."

Hejduk is quick to remember his first game in the league, and like the team player he is, he first mentioned that the Avalanche lost the contest. It took a follow-up question before he mentioned he scored his first goal in the game.

During his rookie season, Hejduk tallied 14 goals and 34 assists for 48 points and was a Calder Trophy finalist and a member of the NHL All-Rookie Team, which was more than what he expected entering the 1998-99 campaign.

"I showed up to training camp, not sure what to expect," he said. "I kind of expected to start in the minors but I made the team. I ended up on a great team that was a Stanley Cup contender right away, which was huge, a bunch of hall of famers in the locker room. It's was a huge help for me as a rookie."

Four season's later in 2002-03, he scored 50 goals to win the franchise's first-ever Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer.

However his favorite memory came in the spring of 2001 when he helped win the team's second Stanley Cup.

"That is definitely the best thing to happen to me in all my years here," he said.

He reached the 20-goal mark for 11 straight seasons from 1999-00 to 2010-11, tying Sakic's franchise record for consecutive seasons of 20 or more goals, and has finished with 50 or more points in a season nine times.

His offensive production puts him on the verge of another milestone, 800 points, which he got a little closer to in his 1,000th game.

Hejduk scored his first goal of the season in first period against Dallas, putting in a rebound at the top of the crease after a shot by Paul Stastny and a tip by John Mitchell.

The goal put him two points away from 800, which would make him the second player in Avalanche history and fourth in the franchise to reach the feat. The only other Quebec/Colorado players to record 800 points were Joe Sakic (1641), Peter Stastny (1048) and Michel Goulet (945). Sakic had 1,015 of those points after the team relocated to Denver, making Sakic the only player to surpass 800 points in an Avalanche sweater.

Now the elder statesman of the group, Hejduk is teaching a new group of young Avs how to be professional hockey players, just like Sakic, Peter Forsberg and others did for him.

"His whole career and the last four years that I've known him, he's been the consummate professional," Sacco said. "He's a great teammate and he's somebody for when our young players come into this organization, they should look at him and try and model themselves after."

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