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Former teammates salute Voracek for playing in 1,000 games

There are plenty of stories to tell about the popular Blue Jackets winger

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

The thing about Jakub Voracek is that everyone has a story. 

The Blue Jackets forward has been a character since he arrived in the NHL as a 19-year-old from the Czech Republic, and it still continues to this day. 

To be around him is to have fun, to laugh and to have something happen that you might remember years down the road. 

In fact, one of those stories -- one offered during a recent interview with former Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin -- proved to be foreshadowing for the type of career Voracek has had. 

"I don't know if he remembers it or not, but one of those road trips back in the day, I think it was his second or third year or something like that, he made a bet with one of the guys and he said he was going to be playing longer than Jaromir Jagr," Tyutin said. "At the time, everybody was laughing at him, but as things have unfolded, it seems like he meant that." 

One never knows if Jagr is retired these days -- and the fellow native of Kladno in the Czech Republic had quite a head start on Voracek -- but there might be something in the water of that Central Bohemian city.  

While Jagr is known for longevity in the game on par with that of Gordie Howe, Voracek skated in his 1,000th NHL game on Thursday at New Jersey. Getting to four digits is one of the most respected honors a player can have in the game, and Voracek is just the fourth player to reach the mark in a CBJ sweater and the 12th player from his home country to do it.  

A lot of things have to go right for a player to make it that far. Sure, there has to be talent, which Voracek had in spades as the talented playmaker was chosen seventh overall by the Jackets in the 2007 draft in Columbus. There also has to be a work ethic, which has only gotten stronger as he's been in the league. You also need luck, which has come through in spades -- Voracek has never missed more than 10 games in a campaign and never had to undergo a major surgery because of a hockey injury.  

But for those who have known him since the beginning, the accomplishment isn't a huge surprise. Sure, Voracek might have predicted it way back when, but he also backed it up with everything a player needs to be able to get this far in the NHL. 

"Obviously he looks different in pictures, but being around him now and being around him back then, he's still the same person," said Jared Boll, who played with Voracek his first go-around in Columbus and now is a development coach in the CBJ organization. "What is so good about Jake, he doesn't change who he is. He never has. He's a fun guy to be around. He loves having fun at the rink. He just makes it light every day, and that's what's kept him in the game for so long. 

"He's come a long way from eating tuna subs from Subway for pregame meal to now." 

A Colorful Character 

Boll slipped in the joke about Voracek's old nutritional habits because to talk about Jake is to marvel at his personality. 

He first arrived in Columbus in 2008 at 19 years old, a year out from being drafted and having spent two years starring with Halifax of the QMJHL. While there was no doubting his talent, Voracek came in as a curly-haired beanpole of a player with plenty of personality and panache, perhaps foreshadowing the chatty, bearded veteran he would become.  

"Whenever you think of Jake, you smile and giggle because he's a funny guy," said Derek Dorsett, who played three seasons with Voracek in Columbus and now is a development coach with the Jackets. "When he first came in, I think of this tall, lanky, skinny kid that still had baby fat on his face. But he was just a fun guy." 

It didn't take long for a young CBJ core, spearheaded by Rick Nash and led by such names as Voracek, Boll, Dorsett, Marc Methot, Kris Russell, Derick Brassard and more, to jell together off the ice. Many of them lived at the Burnham Square condominiums across the street from Nationwide Arena, with Methot describing it as a big dorm room where every player's door was open and plenty of fun times were to be had.  

Those players not only helped push the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance in 2009, they all went on to long, impressive NHL careers. But they speak fondly of the times they shared in Columbus when they were just finding their way, and that led to some interesting stories, as well, about someone like the fun-loving Voracek. 

"I think it was his rookie year, but one of the first road trips with him, it was a day trip to Nashville so we were flying out the day before the game," Methot said. "We're all going to the plane with our overnight bags and all our toiletries, and Jake had nothing. So we're like, 'What the heck are you doing? Did you not pack anything?' 

"And he goes, 'Yeah!' and he pulls out this raggedy old toothbrush. Like, this thing would be used to clean a carburetor or something. It was just gross. And we were dying. Like, this guy pulls this old 1980s looking toothbrush out of his pocket, and he had everyone howling. That was just Jake." 

Road trips in general seemed to be where plenty of fun was had, and even someone like Nash, by then the CBJ captain, couldn't resist getting in on things with Voracek, who was still figuring out what it meant to live in North America. 

"One of the funniest times was we were about to go on a road trip, and I think it was one of his first road trips," Nash said. "Obviously he's from the Czech Republic, and it's one of his first couple of times in the U.S. We were on our way to the plane and I asked him, we were going to fly to San Jose, I said, 'We're going to San Jose, California, you need your passport, right?' He said, 'No, Nasher. No, I don't need my passport.' I said, 'Yeah, we're going to San Jose. Turn around and go get it.' 

"Finally, I told him California, you don't need your passport. But that's a story me and Jake still laugh about." 

On the ice, Voracek didn't take long to show he belonged. Despite his young age, he immediately started putting up points, totaling 39 goals and 95 assists over his three seasons with the Blue Jackets from 2009-11.  

That's not to say there weren't bumpy moments along the way, including a story that still cracks Boll up about Voracek and former CBJ goalie Fredrik Norrena. 

"I want to say it was Jake's first year or second year," Boll said. "We were in Buffalo, I'll never forget, and we were doing the half moon shooting and Freddy Norrena was in net. I think he had a few shots come high, maybe by some veteran guys, and Freddy was getting a little upset. I think Jake was up next and ripped one by his head or off the crossbar and in, and he started hooting and hollering. 

"I don't think Jake expected this, but Freddy shed all his gear and chased Jake around the ice yelling, 'I'm gonna kill you if I catch you!' It was Jake's first year, my second year, seeing Freddy Norrena throw his stuff off and chase Jake around the ice because he shot high on him. As a rookie, you probably shouldn't do that on a veteran goalie." 

Unfortunately, his time in Columbus didn't last too long the first time around. With the team failing to back up the 2009 playoff appearance, the Blue Jackets traded Voracek to Philadelphia in the summer of 2011 as part of a package that netted star center Jeff Carter.  

Voracek would go on to become one of the most consistent point producers in the NHL with the Flyers, creating plenty of memories and stories there as well. 

"I've been told by a lot of people that I'm one of a kind the way I approach the game," he said. "I don't know if that's good or bad, but I'm still here, so I guess I do something right. I'm sure there's a lot of stories. Most of them are true." 

Reflecting on Voracek 

When former players think about Voracek, there's no doubt there's a ton of respect for his skill set. Since making his NHL debut, he ranks ninth in the league in primary assists and assists, 12th in power-play assists and 16th in points. In his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, he averaged 68 points per 82 games, and even this year his 22 assists lead the CBJ team. 

But what stands out is what he's brought to the table off the ice. First, there's the dedication he's shown to the game that has allowed him to get to this point, and there's also the personality that has helped light up the locker room wherever he was. 

"It's a huge feat and I have nothing but congratulations for him," Methot said. "I don't say this lightly, he's probably one of the most likable guys I've ever played with. I can't think of too many times where Jake has come to the rink and been in a bad mood. Even when he was kind of grumpy at times, we still had fun with it. He was just a guy you could have fun with. Players like that are contagious around the room in a very good way, and that applies to Jake." 

That's also one reason the Blue Jackets looked to bring him back this offseason. There certainly were hockey reasons, as his playmaking abilities and vision fit for a team in need of someone to complement Patrik Laine and hoping to bolster its power play. 

But with one of the youngest teams in the NHL set to be iced, the Blue Jackets were also looking for veteran leadership, and that's something Voracek brings to the table. He's also made no bones about the fact he's happy to be back in Columbus as his career has come full circle. 

"There's very few and far between guys that play 1,000 games in one place," said Chris Clark, who was once roommates with Voracek with the Blue Jackets and is now the team's director of player personnel. "I think his heart is here. He was drafted here, played his first games here, did all his first milestones here. He went away a little bit, had some success, now coming back and having some success, I think it's a lot more special to him." 

It seems only fitting to end on a note from Nash. After all, he served as team captain when Voracek entered the league and remains the CBJ all-time leader in pretty much every stat, and you can't think of Blue Jackets hockey without him. 

Nash played 1,060 NHL games, making him the first-ever CBJ draft pick to get to the 1,000-game milestone. He's played with a lot of notable names throughout his NHL career, but you could tell it meant something special for him to be able to welcome Voracek to the club. 

"For me, it was so special to hit that milestone and to be able to say that you played 1,000 games in the NHL," Nash said. "Jake has had a lot of ups and downs in his career and a lot of people that have helped him to this point, but for him to get drafted here and me to be a player when he was here, it means the world to me that he's hitting this milestone and I'm so proud of him and his family. He comes from a great family, and I've gotten to know his parents over the years. I'm just so proud of Jake and happy he's a Blue Jacket again. 

"Jake has turned into a great pro, and I think it's important that we have him here in Columbus so our young guys can learn off him on how to stick around in this league for 1,000 games." 

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