It's December 1993. A young Jamie Pushor
, in his first professional season with the AHL's Adirondack Red Wings, speeds down the ice as part of a 3-on-2 rush to the net. He takes a crisp pass as he comes around the back of the goal and slaps a backdoor shot into an unguarded net.
This first professional goal comes fondly to Pushor's mind as nearly 13 years later he embarks on his 900th career game in professional hockey. The veteran defenseman will reach the milestone Friday when the Syracuse Crunch host the Chicago Wolves.
"I wish I was playing my 900th NHL game, I think that goes without saying," Pushor said. "But playing in the American League and working your way up is a real part of the game and an important part of everyone's career."
The Blue Jackets selected Pushor, a defenseman, with the 14th pick of the 2000 expansion draft, making him one of the original CBJ.
"The first season in Columbus was pretty fun, exciting and special for us," he said.
Over his career he's amassed 521 games in the NHL, 147 with the Jackets. He also spent the better part of six full seasons in the Detroit Red Wings organization, debuting in 1995.
"Regardless of where we are in our careers, everyone in the American League wants to play in the NHL still. If that's not your goal, then I don't think you should be playing. Having gone up and played a few games last year and getting a taste of that, I think it keeps you going for another season."
Playing for Detroit when it set the NHL record for wins in a season (62) in 1996 was particularly memorable, Pushor said, reflecting on his career. He also recalls playing with Steve Yzerman when he eclipsed the 1,000 games played plateau and playing under legendary coach Scotty Bowman when he won his 1,000th game.
Though Pushor has spent nearly all of the past two seasons with Syracuse, he recorded a goal and an assist in the Jackets season-ending win over Dallas last year. For his NHL career, he's collected 14-46-60 with 648 PIM. In the AHL, the well-respected team leader of the Crunch has tallied 12-77-89 with 654 PIM. To this point this season, he's 0-1-1 with 13 PIM.
"I'm trying to give something back to the guys I'm playing with here in Syracuse, as far as having someone to talk to about playing in the NHL," Pushor, Crunch team captain, said. "When you have someone that you can see and play with every day that has been able to play in the NHL for an extended period of time, it gives them a feeling like if he can do it, I can do it."
No doubt, Pushor is a journeyman. H's in his 13th season with the ninth different team, but he said he has reveled in traveling across North America and meeting many different people.
"It's such an honor (to make it to the NHL.) I think you appreciate it more when you've been to the NHL and then back to the minors."
In his lengthy career, the Alberta native also has established a reputation for good work off the ice. The Western Hockey League (WHL) gave him the 1993-94 Humanitarian of the Year Award. He expressed his desire for people to see him as "a good person, a good leader and a good teammate."
Looking ahead at his future, Pushor admits that years in the AHL, with its tendency to lump weekend games together, have "taken their toll" physically, perhaps even more than his time in the NHL.
"I just feel fortunate that I haven't had any major injuries over my career that have kept me out of long stretches. I was fortunate to play that much time in the NHL and get those opportunities, and I believe I've done the best with what I've been given."
But the tough veteran isn't ready to hang up his skates just yet.
"[Hockey's] been my whole life," he said. "It's a real lifestyle, something that I've enjoyed every minute of."
When asked what he's given to the game of hockey, his answer was to-the-point, just like him: "an honest effort."