On June 24, 2000 at the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, the Nashville Predators used the sixth overall pick to select a kid from Lloydminster named Scott Hartnell.
Hartnell was a Western Hockey League fan favorite with the Prince Albert Raiders, with 82 points and 124 penalty minutes in his final season. Later that fall, he became the youngest player in the NHL when he made his debut with the Predators, and it became a marriage that lasted six seasons and 453 games.
The now-32-year-old Hartnell went on to play seven seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he gained a loyal following for his crazy hair, clutch goals, and penchant for falling down during play (#hartnelldown, his philanthropic initiative, was born from this). The child of two schoolteachers, Hartnell has seen many places and done many things during his career: he’s been an NHL All-Star (2011), played in a Stanley Cup Final (2010), spent a season in Norway, made a Hollywood cameo, and owns a small stake in the Finnish hockey club KalPa.
He’s an interesting, charismatic guy who has won the hearts of his teammates and fans, and tonight, he will achieve his greatest milestone to date when he plays in his 1,000th career game against the Los Angeles Kings.
And even though Hartnell is a relative newcomer in Columbus having played only 46 games with the Blue Jackets after being acquired from the Flyers on June 23, 2014, his teammates are unanimously impressed at an accomplishment that is indicative of one of sports’ biggest challenges: longevity.
“I don’t think you really understand or appreciate how impressive the 1,000-game milestone is until you get a taste of the NHL and how much of a grind it is, both physically and mentally,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Kevin Connauton, who is, like Hartnell, an Alberta native. “You start getting a few games under your own belt, and then you look at a guy like Scott Hartnell who’s about to play his 1,000th, and it’s amazing.
PHOTO GALLERY: Scott Hartnell through the (14) years
“He’s always been a guy who gets the job done and plays whatever role is asked of him. He’s a great person and a great guy to have in our locker room and I think anyone that’s ever played with him will say the same thing. To see Hartsy at 14 years and counting and about to hit that 1,000 game mark is really, really impressive.”
With one look around the NHL this season, it’s clear that Hartnell has been both durable and consistent in order to get to the 1,000-game mark; the most recent player to reach 1,000 games was Scott Gomez of the New Jersey Devils, who did so on Dec. 27 at the age of 35. Before Gomez, 35-year-old Brad Stuart of the Colorado Avalanche played his milestone game on Dec. 18 after 15 seasons spent with six different teams.
Others who have played game No. 1,000 in 2014-15 include Scott Hannan of the San Jose Sharks (age 36), Daniel Sedin of Vancouver, David Legwand of Ottawa and Brad Richards of Chicago (all age 34).
“The fact that he’s reached this milestone in only 14 years speaks to his durability and how takes care of himself,” said Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu. “He’s still pretty young and I think there’s a lot left for him. When I think of how (Hartnell) was as an opponent, I think of him being tough to play against and one of those guys you love to have on your side.
“You knew when he was out there on the ice just because of his presence and how carried himself, and now, I can say this: it’s much better to have him as a teammate now and not have to deal with some of his shenanigans. (1,000 games) is a great accomplishment for a good guy, and we’re all really happy for him.”
Perhaps most impressive about reaching such a significant milestone in only 14 seasons and at 32 years of age is the type of game Hartnell plays and the kind of player he is — in a word, he’s a throwback. He’s sandpaper, in-your-face and wants to get under the opponents’ skin and make them uncomfortable at every available opportunity. During his time with the Flyers, Hartnell became public enemy No. 1 for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fan base after numerous regular season meetings and some memorable showdowns in the playoffs.
Despite that physically grueling and demanding way of going about his business, Hartnell has played at least 80 games in seven of the last nine seasons and accumulated at least 100 penalty minutes 10 times in 14 seasons.
“It says a lot about him as a player,” said Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno. “He plays the game hard and he plays the right way. He came into the league at a young age, but he’s found a way to not only stick around, but to prosper, as well. Hartsy’s been a really good player for a number of years in this league, and what a credit this milestone is to him.
“It’s incredible if you consider the way he plays…he’s a rough and tumble guy and he’s out there to make things hard on you. It’s impressive that he’s able to get to this 1,000 game mark at the age of 32 and it has to be really gratifying for him. I’m sure he looks back and sees that his 1,000th game is (Monday) and wonders where the time has gone, but he has a lot to proud of, he really does.”