Games-played milestones are marked off every 100 games, a time period that encompasses one complete regular season and more than 20 percent of another. They’re notable accomplishments, and they become more pronounced as individuals’ careers progress.
Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes will celebrate three: Brad Malone will skate in his 100th career NHL game, John-Michael Liles will play in his 700th game and Cam Ward will make his 500th career appearance in net.
“Wow. Those are big numbers. Good for those guys. That’s outstanding,” head coach Bill Peters said after the morning skate. “700 is a big number for an NHL D-man, and 500 for a goaltender is special also. Bugsy is going to get up into much more than 100 with the way he’s playing right now.”
Five hundred games played for a goaltender is akin to the 1,000 mark for a skater, and Ward will join a select list; just three other active goaltenders – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT) and Ryan Miller (BUF) – have played 500 games with one team.
“The milestone is a very good accomplishment. It’s an exciting time, so that’s going to be a fun night when he gets to 500,” Peters said last week. “I know that will be a big moment in his career.”
“Wardo’s accomplishment is extremely impressive,” Liles said. “A guy that has meant so much to this organization and been a cornerstone for so long, you’re really happy for him. It’s a huge milestone.”
Drafted 25th overall by the Hurricanes in 2002, Ward has been a staple in net for the team since capturing the Stanley Cup in 2006. Though he only appeared in 28 games during the 2005-06 regular season, his 15-8 record in the postseason is the notable statistic, and it led him to the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie goaltender.
“He’s a real good goaltender. He’s a calm guy and a good, quiet leader in our room,” Peters said. “I know it gives our team a lot of confidence when he’s in our net.”
Though Liles will play in game No. 700 in the NHL tonight, just 73 of those will have been as a member of the Hurricanes; he spent 523 games with the Colorado Avalanche and 104 with the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining Carolina last year.
“For me, it’s been a long career with a lot of years so far,” he said. “I was saying the other day that, growing up in Indiana, if you would have told me I’d play one game in the NHL, let alone 700, I’d be pretty happy. It means a lot to me and my family, and it’s a nice feather in the cap.”
Malone, who bounced between the Avalanche and Lake Erie of the AHL in the last three seasons, has become a staple on the Hurricanes’ fourth line this year.
“Good for Bugsy,” Liles said, referring to Malone by his familiar nickname. “He’s been a big part of this season in the second half. He’s a guy that brings a lot each and every night.”
“It’s special. It’s something to hang your hat on to make it to 100 games, but in this league, you can’t be comfortable or complacent,” Malone said. “I can’t have that feeling like I’ve made it. Every day I have to keep working and getting better, and obviously I’d like to play 500 more.”
Obviously the next step for this trio of players is more games played: 101, 501 and 701 most immediately. But looking back on the first 99, 499 and 699, what stands out?
“You realize how much it means just to be a part of teams for 700 games. The guys in the room and the memories you create, not just on the ice but off the ice,” Liles said. “I’ve had the privilege of playing in three pretty amazing organizations through these 700 games, and it’s just an honor to have been a part of this many games, hopefully there is more ahead.”