It was just after sunrise on Tuesday that the emotion first started to overwhelm Andrea Kesler.
That night in Arizona, her husband Ryan would play in his 1,000th NHL game, a revered milestone in the sport and one that seemed unreachable for Kesler as recently as a year ago. But it was that morning back in their home in Laguna Beach - just before Ryan left to board the team flight for a game with the Coyotes - that really tugged at the heartstrings.
Andrea and the couple's four children - Makayla, Ryker, Kinsley and Keegan - presented Dad with a meaningful gift to commemorate the occasion. Inside the box was a set of cufflinks, one engraved with his initials "RK" and the other with "1K" to signify 1,000 games played.
"It was pretty emotional," Andrea recalled Wednesday night at Honda Center, just a few minutes after she was on the ice with Ryan and the family for a ceremony honoring Kesler's 1,000th. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house between him, the kids, his mom, his dad."
Several hours later and about 400 miles from home, Andrea and the family were in Arizona as Ryan made game 1,000 official in a 3-1 win over the Coyotes. "As the day went on, it just got more and more exciting," Andrea said. "Being there that night was pretty special."
It was a night she may not have seen coming a year ago, as she and Ryan - along with two of Ryan's physical therapists - sat in the Vail, Colorado office of Dr. Marc Philippon, who eight months prior had performed the arthroscopic surgery on Kesler's ailing right hip. Despite the successful procedure, the hip was still bothering Kesler, who hadn't returned to the Ducks until late December of that 2017-18 season and didn't have nearly the mobility he once had. Dr. Philippon brought up the possibility of Kesler walking away from the game following that season, which left the veteran center virtually speechless.
That's when Andrea spoke up, according to a story written on Kesler this week on SI.com. "Well," she said firmly, "that's not an option. He's already this close to 1,000 games. So what can we do to get him there?"
Andrea expounded on that story Wednesday night. "I just know that 1,000 games mattered so much to him," she said. "I think I was speaking for him in that moment, because he had been crushed with such bad news that he couldn't find any words. I knew this was something that was important for him. I knew if he had to give up before 1,000, it would kill him. So I stepped up to the plate and took the initiative to ask, 'How do we get there?'"
To get there, Kesler had to endure months of grueling conditioning with his physical therapists and on his own to get the hip back in shape, testing both his resolve and his patience. The road to recovery included having to methodically learn to adjust his everyday gait to put less pressure on the hip.
"Being told you have to start slow and basically learn how to walk again was difficult for him," Andrea said. "It was almost like he and our baby were learning to do the same thing at the same time. It was tough, it was draining. But once I think it became within his grasp, it became reality and there was no turning back."
He leaned heavily on what has been termed Team Kesler, a group of family, friends, medical personnel who all helped him restore both his physical and mental health.
"We're there for him, day in and day out, his parents are there from afar day in and day out," Andrea said, nodding toward Ryan's mom Linda standing next to her. "I'm sure she's probably heard him cry more in the last two years than she ever has."
Linda agreed. "He's kind of sensitive anyway," she said, acknowledging that most of the NHL probably would disagree with her. "So once he starts [getting emotional], we all start.
"I really didn't think he'd be able to get there. I mean, he basically couldn't walk. But he's got a good support team behind him."
While it was primarily immediate family who watched Kesler play his 1,000th in Arizona, most of Team Kesler was in attendance at Honda Center on Wednesday night to watch No. 1,001 against St. Louis. The group included Ryan's parents, Linda and Mike; his sister, Jenny; his brother, Todd; friends from his home state of Michigan and also from his pre-Ducks home in Vancouver; his physical therapists and agent - in all, more than 20 people "who have been a part of this journey from the start," Andrea said.
They took in the pregame on-ice ceremony that included Andrea and the kids, in which Ryan was presented with a commemorative silver stick and other gifts from the team. And they watched Ryan play just under 15 minutes in a 5-4 loss to the Blues.
"It was extremely exciting [Tuesday] night to have the intimate experience with him," Andrea said, "but we knew today was going to be unreal. To have all of them here means so much to us."
Earlier in the evening, Kesler's personal physical therapist David Bradley pulled Ryan's mom aside and told her a story about a recent training session with Ryan. "He was telling me about how Ryan was talking to him about how much he appreciated me growing up and everything I did for him," Linda said softly. "I was shocked, and I got very teary-eyed hearing that. This whole week has been emotional for me."
In beating the odds to get to that 1,000th game, Kesler became one of 25 active NHLers and the 333rd player in league to reach the milestone, the 11th to do it in a Ducks jersey. But for Kesler and his closest supporters, it's more than a benchmark, more than the entry into an exclusive club of the game's warriors. It's the payoff of countless months of literal blood, sweat, tears, heartache and an enormous amount of patience.
"It means a lot," Kesler said. "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."