GLENDALE - Radim Vrbata became the 310th NHL player to skate in 1,000 games on Thursday night at Gila River Arena.
Like he was in his first NHL game with Colorado in 2001, Vrbata was on the ice for the opening face-off in his 1,000th vs. Ottawa. He played 19:59 and co-led the Coyotes with four shots on goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators.
Vrbata's wife, Petra, and his agent, Rich Evans, attended Thursday's game to witness his milestone. So did his younger brother David and his family, who flew to Arizona from the Czech Republic just for the occasion.
Thursday's game was Vrbata's 494th with the Coyotes over three stints. He ranks tied for eighth in team history with 152 goals and 11th with 336 points. He has played for five other NHL teams: Vancouver (142 games), Chicago (122), Colorado (118), Carolina (106) and Tampa Bay (18).
It's fitting, he said, that he reached the milestone at Gila River Arena.
"I'm happy that it's worked out this way," Vrbata said before the game. "It will be special that it will be here, where I've spent probably half of my career. This is where I've had the most success personally. It worked out well."
Vrbata did not notch a point in Thursday's game, which was odd considering he leads the team with 48 and has been producing points with regularity; he recently had a career-high 10-game point streak.
The Coyotes briefly saluted Vrbata, 35, with a video tribute during the first period, and he acknowledged a standing ovation from the fans, and appaluse and stick taps from the other players and the coaches. A formal pre-game ceremony to recognize his feat is set for March 18.
Vrbata broke into the NHL in 2001-02 with the Colorado Avalanche, which drafted him 212th overall in 1999. He was the last player cut after training camp in 2001, but got his shot with the team a month into that season.
Playing on a line with Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk, the rookie notched two assists in his NHL debut vs. the New York Rangers on Nov. 20, 2001, at Madison Square Garden.
"It was surreal," said Vrbata, who notched a goal and two mores assists the next night in his second NHL game vs. the New York Islanders. "I think I was lucky that I started with Colorado. It was like an All-Star team. I've played on some really good teams and with some unbelievable players."
Vrbata has enjoyed his time with Arizona/Phoenix, and remembers fondly being part of the team's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2012. Playing with linemates Martin Hanzal and Ray Whitney were good times.
"It felt like we could do anything on the ice that we wanted," Vrbata said. "It had that feeling of when you go on the ice and you know you can score if you want to. You don't get that too often."
Head Coach Dave Tippett remembers that line well, too.
"It was one of the only times in my tenure here that we felt like we had a legitimate No. 1 line where they could have an impact on the game even with the other team's top players checking them," Tippett said. "There was great chemistry between the three of them."
Shane Doan has been Vrbata's teammate for all three of his stints with the Coyotes. They've gone through a lot together, and Vrbata has earned Doan's respect.
"He's not only a great player, he's just a consummate pro that always does things the right way, and he's been a huge part of our team for years and years," Doan said. " … It's been a lot of fun to watch him play and to see him have the success he's had."
Vrbata said there are several keys to his longevity.
"I think there are so many things that goes into it," Vrbata said. "Health is the most important thing, and you have to have some kind of consistency. Obviously there were so many ups and downs in my career. Every time you're down you just have to believe that things will turn around, and then when you're on a high you don't get too high in your head. I always try to stay level and even-keeled."