It's been over 14 years, but Antoine Vermette still remembers his first NHL game. It occurred on Oct. 9, 2003 when he was a member of the Ottawa Senators and it came against his childhood team, the Montreal Canadiens. It was simply the beginning of what has become a long and decorated career - a career that tonight will span 1,000 games.
"It's exciting," Vermette said earlier today. "I always had a lot of respect for that, as a younger guy, when I saw guys accomplishing that. Being in these shoes right now, I'm very humble, thankful and grateful about having a chance to perform in this league for that long. I'm trying to enjoy every moment."
The 35-year-old center will become one of 17 active skaters and the 313th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 games. A Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, Vermette has gone on to record 505 points (223g/282a) in 999 career NHL games with Ottawa, Columbus, Phoenix/Arizona, Chicago and Anaheim.
Vermette will become the 10th player all-time to appear in his 1,000th game while a member of the Ducks and only the second to do so at Honda Center. (Fredrik Olausson was the first, Dec. 11, 2002 vs. Washington). The others include Scott Niedermayer (Nov. 28, 2006 at Edmonton), Teemu Selanne (Dec. 31, 2006 at Minnesota), Bret Hedican (Nov. 21, 2008 at St. Louis), Todd Marchant (Dec. 22, 2008 at Vancouver), Chris Pronger (Feb. 20, 2009 at Detroit), Rob Niedermayer (March 19, 2009 at Phoenix), Saku Koivu (March 12, 2012 at Colorado) and Shawn Horcoff (March 24, 2016 at Toronto).
"It takes perseverance from the individual," said Vermette's current head coach, Randy Carlyle, who finished his NHL career with 1,055 games. "I don't think there are a lot of people that can understand what it takes on a day-to-day basis. How many times you put skates on for practices and games. If you double up and say there are 1,000 more practices that went into it, and I can probably guarantee there are more than 1,000, probably closer to 1,500 practices that you have to get ready for."
Video: The Ducks discuss Antoine Vermette's 1000th NHL game
These days, Vermette isn't putting up the kind of offensive numbers he did in the past, but one thing that has remained constant is his work on the draw. Vermette currently leads the NHL with a 63.9% faceoff win percentage (minimum 50 faceoffs) and ranks fourth in faceoff wins (216). This season, Vermette has won 50% or more in 15 of 17 games, 60% in 13 games, 70% in four contests and 80% three times. Since joining Anaheim for the start of the 2016-17 season, Vermette is pacing the NHL with a 62.6% faceoff win percentage in 89 games (minimum 1,000 faceoffs).
"The first thing you're going to look at is his faceoff prowess," said Carlyle. "He's been a top faceoff man in the league for a number of years. He continues to do that for our hockey club."
As humble as he is, Vermette's milestone isn't going unnoticed in the locker room. "We were just talking about that a little bit," said teammate Kevin Bieksa. "To accomplish that, you have to be a good player. You have to be a great professional and take care of your body. I'm really happy for him. He deserves everything. He's a true professional and a great teammate."
Vermette will have friends and family in attendance tonight, including his mom, sister, brother-in-law, nieces and friends who made the trip to Anaheim. His dad was unable to attend due to health reasons.
Vermette will prepare like he does for any other game, but he knows this one will be unique. "It's going to be different," he said with a smile. "At the end of the day, it's just another game, but at the same time, it's not."