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Kessel to play 1,000th NHL game tonight with the Coyotes in Colorado

He will be honored with a special pregame ceremony on Saturday, October 19 at Gila River Arena

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Phil Kessel recounted his steps for a moment on Friday afternoon before the team boarded its plane for Denver, Colorado, where tonight, he'll play in his 1,000th NHL game.

There was almost too much to recite, as if there were a doubt fitting all of the details of his storied career into a single interview was even close to possible. That would do it no justice. None.

"That's a lot of games, you know?," he said, pausing. "Obviously it's a lot of years, a lot of games, a lot of good memories. You know, I've been fortunate to play this long."

A 13-year playing career, four teams, two Stanley Cup championships.

357 goals, 467 assists, 824 points, 999 games.

He's produced wherever he's gone.

And that, of course, includes opposing buildings - tonight's setting is no exception. Though he's only played seven games at Colorado's Pepsi Center during his career, Kessel has found the score sheet in almost every one of those few-and-far-between visits, tallying six points (5G, 1A) in the Avalanche's home building.

Kessel will become the 338th player to reach the 1,000 NHL game milestone when the puck drops this evening, and the 13th player to reach that landmark as a member of the Coyotes and original Winnipeg Jets franchise.

"The thousandth game is a special game, but you've still got to go out there and play," he added. "It's not that much different than any other night, you've just got to have a good time."

And behind the bench will be a familiar instructor in head coach Rick Tocchet, who has been by Kessel's side for 167 of his games played thus far; the majority of those coming during the two seasons they spent together while Tocchet was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tonight will also mark Kessel's 778th straight game, which stands as the second-longest active consecutive games played streak in the NHL, and the seventh-longest in league history.

"To me it's impressive that he's played…how many straight games? More than seven hundred games consecutively," Tocchet said. "To play 1,000 games is a huge accomplishment, but to play consecutive games like he's played for the last seven or eight years, that's tough to do, and that shows you what kind of athlete he is."

Tocchet, of course, is a member of the NHL's millennium club, as are assistant coaches John MacLean and Phil Housley. Tocchet played in a total of 1,144 games, MacLean 1,194, and Housley 1,495.

"It's great," Kessel said of playing under a coaching staff laced with such illustrious playing careers. "They're great guys, it's a solid coaching staff, and I think our team is coming together here. Yeah, we're 1-2, but we've played pretty good games here to start the season. If we can build on last game and just keep it going, we'll be good."

And now, as a proven veteran, and one of the league's all-time elite scorers, Kessel sees a bit of himself in many of the young names on the Coyotes' roster, those who are in the early stages of their NHL careers - as he once was.

"There's so many things you learn, from those times even when you were still just a kid," he said, looking back. "You change a lot as a person, you grow a lot, and this good group of young guys here, they've got a passion for the game. Back when I started out, I can see that passion and drive through them."

Tocchet is one of the 12 players to have played his 1,000th NHL game with the franchise, doing so on October 26, 1999 in Edmonton. For him, it was highlighted by the family experience.

"For me, it was about my family," Tocchet said. "The Coyotes flew my parents in for that game, and that's a big deal. As a player, maybe you don't think about it as much until you're retired, but it's usually the support group around you that you feel really close to, whether you're seeing your parents or your siblings, it's the family that's important when it comes to your 1,000th game, that's what's special."

Kessel, too, will have his family on hand when the Coyotes honor him on Saturday, October 19 at Gila River Arena with a special pregame ceremony.

And that will be another memorable night for a player who's had a very memorable career.

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