MONTREAL--Jarome Iginla's passion for the game still burns strong, even to this day.
Iginla's thrill for playing and being on the ice with his teammates was evident Saturday morning as he was one of the first Colorado Avalanche players on the ice to take part in an optional morning skate at Bell Centre. He teed up shots for fellow forward Nathan MacKinnon, who is 18 years his younger, before receiving the favor from the 21-year-old.
After 19-plus seasons, Iginla loves being around the rink.
"It's hard to believe. I mean inside you know I don't feel 39 and have played in my 20th season or whatever, but it is neat," Iginla said recently. "It is funny when guys on my team, MacKinnon and [19-year-old Mikko] Rantanen, you know they are closer to my kids' age then my age right now. So it's a little bit different, but it's fun too. I feel fortune to get to play with them and be beside them. They keep me younger--coming to the locker room, it keeps you younger."
Iginla, 39, has played in all 82 games in an NHL season 11 times during his career, including a stretch of five consecutive campaigns from 2007 to 2012 with the Calgary Flames. He has yet to miss a game with the Avalanche since signing as a free agent on his birthday, July 1, two years ago.
That longevity and consistency isn't lost on his teammates.
"He's a machine. I think he's played five or six straight 82-game seasons, and you understand why," MacKinnon said. "He takes care of himself. He's in great shape. He works out hard. He takes care of his body. Obviously, you have to be a good player as well to play that long, and he's had an unbelievable career. I'm really happy for him."
Iginla will become the 16th player in NHL history to play in 1,500 games, and he'll take sole possession of that spot this evening against the Montreal Canadiens. He is currently tied with Mike Modano, who fell one contest short of the milestone.
It's an accomplishment that he didn't really shoot for. It just came from years of hard work.
"It is one of those you don't really think about on the way," Iginla said. "As it approaches and I get there, or get really close, it definitely makes me appreciate how fortunate I have been and to play this long and play that amount of games. At the start you don't think about it like that, you are just playing. It is one also that I'm very thankful of because a lot of that is out of our control (staying healthy), and I've been veryfortunate and lucky."
He'll hit the mark in the hockey hotbed of Montreal and against the storied Canadiens franchise. All of Canada will also be watching as the contest will be nationally televised.
To reach the achievement in his home country is special for the Edmonton, Alberta, native, who has won two Olympic gold medals for the nation.
"It's cool to do it in Montreal, in a Canadian city. It is a great building and atmosphere," he said. "It's one to hit, just remember it, and I think it's also neat for my parents. I think back and reflect, it's been fun together as a family, where you know all the different games and watching the different experiences, the ups and downs. It's been really cool."
Video: Jarome Iginla discusses playing in 1,500 NHL games
Iginla has made a name for himself in the NHL record book, especially recently.
He ranks 16th all-time in goals (614), 35th in points (1,279), 21st in power-play goals (97) and is tied for eighth in game-winning goals (nine) with Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur.
By the end of the season, Iginla could also realistically pass Steve Yzerman (1,514), Brendan Shanahan (1,524), Johnny Bucyk (1,540) and Alex Delvecchio (1,549) to move to 12th place on the league's all-time games played list.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar is glad to have Iginla on his roster to help the younger players by bringing his wealth of knowledge and to lead by example. His lethal slap shot from the left circle during power plays is also a bonus.
"He's a true pro. He keeps himself in top condition. He comes to play every night," Bednar said. "He's a competitor, brings a lot of experience and fire to our lineup. He's a shooter. You look at tonight, a pretty special night for him, playing in his 1,500th game, and he is still a dangerous guy for us. It's nice as a coach to have a guy like him around the locker room."
Now nearing the tail end of his playing days, what advice does Iginla have for the next generation of players?
Like a lot of veterans say, it's to enjoy the moment. It wasn't too long ago that Iginla himself felt he still had his whole career in front of him.
"Same things that guys told me when I was younger: 'Enjoy it, it goes so fast.' And you think, 'Oh wow, it is hard to believe,'" Iginla said. "It is a ton of fun, but I guess that is why it does go so fast."
The right wing has been through some heartbreaks in his career and noted some of those have taken a "long time" to get over. But he gets rejuvenated each August and September when a new season is on the horizon and the hope that this is the year that ends with a championship.
"Every year you start over. You have the possibilities, and I'll miss that for sure," he said. "All of it has been a great ride."
The journey is not over yet.