Maybe it was fitting that veteran forward Milan Hejduk
achieved his most recent milestone on home ice.
Having already become the all-time scoring leader at Pepsi Center earlier this season when he netted a pair of assists on Oct. 30 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hejduk suited up in his 900th career game on Tuesday night and scored the lone goal in the shootout to cap a dramatic 5-4 comeback victory over those same Blue Jackets.
Tonight’s game marked Hejduk’s return to the ice after missing four contests with a shoulder injury suffered on March 11 at Pepsi Center against the Anaheim Ducks. The Czech Republic native then sat out all four games of Colorado’s recent road swing as the shoulder healed, leading to his return Tuesday night against the Jackets.
The 2003 Rocket Richard Trophy winner became just the third player in franchise history to reach 900 career games, joining long-time captain Joe Sakic (1378) and current captain Adam Foote (966). However, since Sakic and Foote both played a chunk of their early years with the Quebec Nordiques, Hejduk became the first player to reach the 900-game plateau in an Avalanche uniform.
A model of consistency throughout his career, Hejduk’s next goal will mark the 11th consecutive season that he’s reached the 20-goal mark, which would tie Joe Sakic’s franchise record (1995-96 to 2006-07). The only season in which Hejduk didn’t reach that mark was his rookie campaign, when he recorded 14 goals while appearing in all 82 games.
The winger has also recorded at least 44 points in each of his 12 NHL seasons, including an injury-plagued 2009-10 campaign during which he appeared in a career-low 56 contests but still managed 23 goals and 21 assists.
For many of the Avalanche’s young players, some of whom were still in grade school when Hejduk broke into the league in 1998-99, the 900-game plateau might be hard to fathom or put into proper perspective.
Second-year center Matt Duchene
, who was seven years old when Hejduk made his NHL debut, discussed his teammate’s accomplishment following Tuesday’s morning skate.
“It’s just amazing. That’s a lot of games played,” said Duchene, who appeared in his 151st NHL contest tonight. “He’s had an unbelievable career and he’s deserved all the success he’s had.”
Hejduk, who has spent much of the season on the wing of a Duchene-centered line, instead skated with Paul Stastny
and David Jones
during his milestone contest.
He nearly made it a double milestone night during a Colorado power play midway through the opening frame. Hejduk cut into the slot with just over 11 minutes remaining in the period and unleashed a low wrister that Columbus goalie Steve Mason had to scramble to stop.
Instead, he had to settle for a game-winning shootout tally. Tabbed to shoot first for the Avalanche, Hejduk buried a wrister past Mason’s glove hand. From there, Brian Elliott made three stops to allow the tally to stand up as the winner.