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Voracek in rarefied air by reaching 1,000-game milestone

Blue Jackets veteran has the respect, admiration of his peers for the accomplishment

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Hockey players are competitive by nature, so it's not hard to imagine Jakub Voracek hearing the challenge and defiantly meeting it head on. 

The young Voracek and veteran center Antoine Vermette were stallmates during the early years of Voracek's career, and the conversation the two had one day is still remembered by many. 

"They had some sort of bet when we were all young guys playing for the Jackets on how many games Jake would play," Rick Nash remembers. "It would be interesting to see if Jake is going to win that bet or not." 

Video: Media Avail: Voracek (1/5/22)

The exact stipulations might be lost to time, but it's fair to say Voracek likely is the winner. The 32-year-old winger is expected to suit up in his 1,000th career NHL game tonight when the Blue Jackets play at New Jersey, making him just the fourth player to reach that milestone while wearing a CBJ sweater and the 12th Czech player to ever do so as well. 

It's rarefied air, and getting to four digits is one of those accomplishments that brings with it the respect and admiration of those who know just how difficult it is to play NHL hockey.  

Which is why it's funny to look back all those years ago to those who wondered just how far young Voracek would go. 

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Voracek said of his conversation with Vermette. "He was sitting right next to me. My lifestyle back in the day, I don't think he thought I was going to be sticking around more than five years, and here I am at 14. I am sure I surprised him a little bit. I surprised a lot of people. I remember (former CBJ head coach) Scott Arniel told me I was gonna be out of the league in three years my last year in Columbus. I kind of told him what I thought." 

In the end, that exchange is prototypical Voracek. He's honest with his feelings, but he's been able to back that up over the years with the dedication, skill and personality to make it to this milestone event. 

The seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Blue Jackets, he made his NHL debut in 2008 and scored in his first game. He racked up 39 goals and 134 points in three years with the team from age 19 to 21, but Columbus thought it had a chance to make a home run move in the summer of 2011 and traded Voracek to Philadelphia as part of the package that netted star center Jeff Carter. 

Voracek went on to a 10-year career in Philadelphia where he became one of the most consistent players in the NHL. He played in the maximum amount of games on the schedule six times and never missed more than 10 games in a season, averaging a 20-48-68 line every 82 games in his decade with the Flyers. 

He's also played in all 31 games this year, again proving that one of the most important abilities in pro sports is availability. In the end, that's one of the things he's most proud of to get to this mark, that he's rarely if ever had to leave the ice no matter what he's going through. 

"That I'm old, first of all," he said when asked what the 1,000-game milestone meant to him before turning serious. "It's just, I've been really fortunate not being hurt much throughout my career. I didn't miss many games. I take a lot of pride in that. Even if I'm banged up or was banged up throughout the year, I can always find a way to play the game. I think it's a little bit old school, kind of just battle through it no matter what you got." 

Head coach Brad Larsen played in 294 NHL games over eight seasons, and while his job was much different than Voracek's -- he was a bottom-six grinder for much of his career, not an offensive player like Voracek -- he played on teams that included such legendary figures as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, Marian Hossa, Patrick Roy, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Mark Recchi, Keith Tkachuk, Scott Mellanby, Bobby Holik, Radim Vrbata and Alexei Zhitnik.

"Yeah, 999 or 1,000, there seems to be a big difference, right?" Larsen said. "I don't think people really know how hard it is to not only last that long but stay healthy enough to play that many and then to produce at that level. This is a really tough league. It's the best league in the world, and I was really fortunate to be able to play with some special players, too, to reach those milestones.  

"That's something I think Jake will cherish. It's a feather in your cap. You're in elite company when you play that amount of games, so good for him." 

It's also an accomplishment that hits home for some like CBJ forward Sean Kuraly. The Dublin native probably attended his share of games as a youngster at Nationwide Arena in which Voracek played, and now he's turned into an NHL veteran himself. In fact, he played his 300th NHL game on Saturday, giving him the proper perspective to realize what it takes to get to 1,000. 

"You play 300 and you realize how hard it's been and how long it seems like it takes to get there, and then you see someone next to you who is playing 1,000," Kuraly said. "It's an impressive feat. Jake has been a heck of a player and had a heck of a career. I have a ton of respect for him as a teammate and as a player, and he's deserving of the accolades. 

"A thousand games, not a lot of guys do that. It's hard to stay healthy. There's so many intangibles that go into it. It's not just about being a good player, although that is a major component. So yeah, it's a great accomplishment and something that I have a lot of respect for, and Jake in particular." 

Added forward Oliver Bjorkstrand: "It's really impressive. Not a lot of guys are able to play 1,000 games. It says a lot about a player and obviously how good a player he has been and how he's been able to keep on playing at a high level. He's still really good, and he's at 1,000 games almost. That's really impressive. It's a very special thing to be able to do." 

There's also the possibility that Voracek will get to a much higher total of games before it's all said and done. While the league keeps getting younger and younger, a number of veterans across the league have shown the ability to play into their late 30s and still be effective. 

So far, that's the case for Voracek as well. He is tied for the NHL lead with 18 primary assists, and his 22 total helpers are tops on the CBJ team, and he isn't afraid to say he's "still a game changer." While he has just one goal, his patience on the puck, vision and leadership have helped the Blue Jackets throughout the season. 

"When you start your career, you don't think you're going to get to 1,000, that's for sure," he said. "It's just so far. It's so many games and so many emotions and so many years. As you get older you're getting closer to that number, and I think as everybody knows in normal life, as you get older, the time flies by even quicker. It's the same way in hockey. When I was 25, 26, I didn't think I was going to get there, but now I am there and hopefully I am going to have many more years. 

"You never know what the final number is going to be, but as long as I'm relevant to the team and helping the team to win games and being in a position to be successful on the ice, I'll play. As soon as I feel that there is nothing I can offer, I'm going to call it." 

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