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Practice Report: Chasing 300

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Two Avalanche players are gunning for the same milestone, as Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth are each within striking distance of 300 career goals. Hejduk (298) sits slightly closer than Smyth (296) heading into Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes.

“It’s obviously quite an accomplishment to score in this game. There are great goaltenders and great players,” said Smyth. “It’s a tough league, but you just try to go out and contribute every night, no matter what the situation.”

The pair is also in a neck-and-neck battle for Colorado’s goal-scoring lead this season, with Hejduk’s 13 markers sitting just ahead of Smyth’s 12 goals.

After he records two more tallies, Hejduk will become just the fourth player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to hit the 300-goal plateau, joining Joe Sakic (625), Michel Goulet (456) and Peter Stastny (380).

“It’s a nice milestone, but it’s not that big of a deal to me,” said Hejduk. “You just try to play the game and score some goals. Whatever the numbers are when I retire, that’s that.”

Of Smyth’s 296 career goals, 26 have come with the Avalanche, five came during his 18-game stint with the New York Islanders during the stretch run of the 2006-07 campaign and the remaining 265 were scored with the Edmonton Oilers.

“I think if you look back at my goals, there probably aren’t many that would make highlight reels,” said Smyth. “You have to pay a price sometimes, and that’s part of the game. That’s part of who I am and how I like to play.”

Seeing a pair of teammates both notch their 300th goal in the same season is a somewhat uncommon occurrence. The last set of teammates to do it was Bobby Holik and Slava Kozloz with Atlanta during the 2006-07 campaign. However, you have to go back another four years for the previous occurrence, when Ulf Dahlen and Scott Young both struck 300 with the Dallas Stars in 2002-03.

Hejduk believes hitting big career milestones – whether it be 300 goals or 600 – can be accredited equally to skill and longevity.

Both Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk are within striking distance of 300 career goals
“I think it’s because of both,” said Hejduk. “If you look at a guy like Joe, he’s got over 600 goals. He’s been so good for so many years and the stats show it. He’s been world class for a long time.”

Like Sakic, Hejduk certainly has the skill to bury the puck. The right winger also took another step toward cementing the longevity part of the equation last night in Colorado’s 5-1 win over Nashville. Hejduk suited up for his 737th career game, which tied Peter Stastny for fourth place on the franchise’s all-time games played list.  Only Sakic (1378), Adam Foote (837) and Goulet (813) have appeared in more contests for the franchise.

Back to the matter at hand, with both players so close to the 300-goal mark, could there be a little friendly competition regarding who will get there first?

“Well, we’re linemates, so we can’t put any wagers on it; it’s tough in that sense,” said Smyth, who also joked about not passing his teammate the puck anymore until he reaches the milestone himself. “But seriously, I hope that he gets it soon, and if he beats me to it, then that’s great for him.”

When Hejduk heard Smyth’s slight verbal jab, he quipped right back.

“Maybe I won’t pass him the puck either,” said Hejduk. “But it would be nice if we got there at the same time.”

Off to Arizona
After Tuesday’s practice at Family Sports Center, the Avs jumped on a flight to Glendale, Ariz., where they will face the Phoenix Coyotes on New Year’s Eve.

This actually marks the second consecutive season Colorado will spend the final day of the calendar year in Arizona. The Coyotes pulled off a 4-3 shootout victory on Dec. 31, 2007.

Wednesday’s game will be the third of four meetings between the clubs this season. Phoenix earned a 2-1 win at Arena on Nov. 28, while the Avs pulled out a 5-4 overtime victory in Denver a week ago.

Peter Budaj will be in goal for the Avalanche, making his third consecutive start.

Surgery for Stastny
Avalanche forward Paul Stastny underwent surgery today to repair a fractured right forearm. Stastny was injured in Colorado’s Dec. 23 matchup against the Coyotes after being struck by an Olli Jokinen shot on the penalty kill.

Stastny's surgery went well, and the forward is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks.

Durno Recalled
The Avalanche announced today that center Chris Durno has been recalled from the Lake Erie Monsters, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. He will meet the Avalanche in Phoenix and be available for tomorrow’s game against the Coyotes.

Durno, 28, currently leads the Monsters in scoring with 19 points (8g/11a) in 31 games played. This is his first call-up with the Avalanche after the team signed him as a free agent on July 3, 2008.

The 6-4, 205-pound native of Scarborough, Ontario played four seasons at Michigan Tech before professional stints with the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators organizations.  Last season with San Antonio (AHL), he posted career-highs in games played (80), goals (23), assists (26), points (49) and penalty minutes (109).
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