For a lot of guys, 400 games is just a number. You don't get a silver stick or a ceremony on the ice with your family for that. You just suit up, play, and then you move onto the next one.
For a guy like me though, 400 games means a little bit more. That's because for the last three years, I didn't know if it was ever going to happen.
In the 2015-16 season, I played five games in the NHL.
The next year, I only played one.
So when this season started and I found myself at 394, I knew there were no guarantees. We had some younger defensemen in the system that would eventually get looks and chances to play at this level, and you're never really sure where you are in the pecking order as far as if there's an injury or something like that. Sometimes you're the guy that gets called up, and sometimes it's somebody else. So you're just working on your game, competing, doing all the right things and constantly continuing to try to show that you can play at this level.
I feel like I still can.
Getting to this milestone happened because of the help and guidance of other people. My dad played college hockey at Saint Louis University and even played pro at the AHL level, so he understood what it took to get here and gave me plenty of advice along the way. My mother played field hockey at SLU (that's how my parents met!) and so she helped me along the way, too. It was in my blood.
When I was a kid, if you would have told me I would play in 400 NHL games, I wouldn't have believed you. I never thought it was a real possibility because St. Louis just hadn't produced many NHL players yet. But then the Blues Alumni starting contributing to youth hockey in St. Louis, and that's a big reason why a lot of us are here now.
I grew up with Travis Turnbull and Matt Zuke. You might know their dads, Perry and Mike, who both played for the Blues. To be around those guys and for them to be able to teach me the game of hockey, I think it made me a smarter player than maybe the other kids who didn't have an opportunity to be around guys like that. Those guys had nice careers in the NHL and could teach you things that an average youth hockey coach could not. For that, I'm grateful.
I learned what a privilege it was to play in the NHL by going back to the American Hockey League. It's not that it's bad - it's not, it's a great league. It's just different. After seven years of being a regular NHLer, being sent down was a shot to my ego, it was hard on the family and it changed things - now all of sudden you get less per diem, you have roommates on the road and you have to ride the Bone-Rattler for hours between games (the Bone-Rattler was what we always called our old team bus). Some players that go back to the American League get stuck on that, maybe don't work as hard. But for me, my mindset was to go the other way, to try to continue to work and improve. I've enjoyed being a leader down there, both with the Chicago Wolves and now the San Antonio Rampage. As I've gotten older, I've realized I can be a mentor to these young kids and try to help them with things. When you're a young player, sometimes hearing constructive criticism from a veteran teammate is easier than hearing constructive criticism from your coach.
As I've gotten older, I've enjoyed getting the call up to the Blues more and more, because those games are few and far between. Wearing this jersey wasn't something I thought would happen, so to reach 400 games while wearing the Blue Note and maybe play a few more games, I'm just trying to live it up. I compare it to golf, really. You can go play and shoot an 80 and that's OK, but shooting a 79 sounds so much better.
Just like 400 sounds a lot better than 394.
So while I feel good and I feel like I can still keep up with all these young bucks out there, I'll take it one game at a time.
Here's to 401…