The physical toll the body takes to play in the National Hockey League is evident when you see Ducks center Ryan Kesler after a game. Bandaged and wrapped, the 34-year-old Livonia, Michigan native has the battle scars and bruises that come from playing a gritty, physical, in-your-face style of game. His stride no longer fluid after multiple surgeries on his hips, including a major procedure in June 2017. Some wondered if he'd ever return to this wonderful sport because of a bad arthritic hip that makes the easiest movements excruciatingly difficult at times.
But those who have watched him over the course of his 15-year NHL career know the toughness he brings. Injuries may have slowed him down, but no one can ever question his dedication to the game. On the ice, he's a warrior. A soldier. A guy who isn't ready to hang up his skates for good just yet. There's still some tread left on those tires, he believes.
Tonight at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, Kesler will get his body prepared for the game with a laundry list of exercises he's done all season. But this game is different.
When he steps onto the ice for his first shift, Kesler will become one of 25 active skaters and the 333rd player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career NHL games. He will also become the 49th American player to appear in 1,000 games and the third such player to hit the milestone in an Anaheim sweater. It's an accomplishment that has been on Kesler's mind for quite some time, and one he takes tremendous pride in.
"One of the goals this summer was to not only be a part of the team and be a regular on the ice for practice and games, but also to hit this benchmark," Kesler said. "It means a lot. It's a privilege to play in this league. Just to be able to play for this long, not many guys have done it. Especially with the last couple years I've had, with everybody that's helped me out and gotten me through the last two years, it makes it even more special."
Kesler joins a list of 10 others who have played their 1,000th career games in Ducks sweaters.
- Fredrik Olausson (Dec. 11, 2002 vs. WSH)
- Scott Niedermayer (Nov. 28, 2006 at EDM)
- Teemu Selanne (Dec. 31, 2006 at MIN)
- Bret Hedican (Nov. 21, 2008 at STL)
- Todd Marchant (Dec. 22, 2008 at VAN)
- Chris Pronger (Feb. 20, 2009 at DET)
- Rob Niedermayer (March 19, 2009 at PHX)
- Saku Koivu (March 12, 2012 at COL)
- Shawn Horcoff (March 24, 2016 at TOR)
- Antoine Vermette (Nov. 17, 2017 vs. BOS)
Kesler isn't a spring chicken anymore, but he knows that. To reach a milestone such as this takes years. "It means I'm old and played this game for a long time," he said with a laugh. "It's going to be a special night. We're going to have a lot of fun together. You have to be a special player in this league. You need to have luck and stay healthy, for the most part."
His upcoming milestone isn't lost on his teammates, either. He and goaltender Ryan Miller go back decades from the days when Kesler and Miller's brother, Drew, played Minor hockey together in Detroit. Being friends this long gives Miller an even greater appreciation for Kesler's milestone.
"It's impressive to see," Miller said. "That's a lot of hockey. He's definitely had to overcome a lot in the last few years. He takes care of himself every day just trying to maintain. Watching that has been impressive, seeing his dedication. I've known him since he was like eight or nine years old. We've known that family for a long time. It's a nice reflection. Growing up in Michigan, finding your way out of there. He's doing a great job in this league."
Miller summed it up when describing Kesler's battle with his body. "It's almost like trying to heal while you're doing a job that tears you down. It's not easy. It shows his commitment to the game."
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf says he saw firsthand the work Kesler put in behind the scenes to build his body back up. "We were pulling for him the last couple of years. There were a few times when we didn't know if he'd be able to continue, but I watched him put the work in. He worked harder in the last year than anyone I've ever seen in my career. It just shows how much he cares about the game.
"It's a pretty big accomplishment for a guy who plays as hard as he does, to still be playing at the 1,000-game mark," said Getzlaf, who needs just 28 games to reach 1,000 in his career. "(It's impressive) how much he puts into getting his body ready and how much pride he takes being that aggressive force night in and night out."