Casey Cizikas played his 500th NHL game on Tuesday night and on Thursday, Brock Nelson will follow suit.
Both players were drafted and developed by the Islanders and are the 30th and 31st players to suit up for 500 games with the franchise. Their games are different, but their paths run parallel, from wide-eyed kids in Bridgeport (who even roomed together at a development camp), to family men and veteran players on Long Island.
Both have become key contributors for the Islanders, with Cizikas serving as the team's sparkplug and anchoring the identity line, while Nelson has slotted in as a scoring second-line center.
What do these two think of getting halfway to the silver stick? NewYorkIslanders.com caught up with Cizikas and Nelson to ask about game one, game 500 and how they've grown up in between.
NYI: What does the 500-game milestone mean to you?
Cizikas: How quick things go by. To think about that milestone, I'm excited about it, I'm proud of it and it seems like the years get quicker and quicker. But I'm going to try to take it in, do whatever I can to get ready for it and just try to play hockey.
Nelson: Pretty cool. When you first come into the league you're just trying to make the lineup and go game by game and then looking back on 500, it's a lot of hockey. I remember hitting one. I think I was in Minnesota for my 100th game. It's pretty cool. Just trying to take it day by day and hopefully get a few more games.
Video: NYI@PIT: Nelson wins it in overtime with second goal
NYI: You've played all 500 with the Islanders. Does spending your whole career with one team hold any special meaning to you?
Cizikas: It definitely does for me. I've loved playing here, I've loved everything about Long Island. Where we live, the people that are here, everything to do with this place, it's my home. This is where I've started a family, I've grown up, we bought our first house here and stuff like that. This place means a lot to not only me, but my family as well. It's been incredible and I hope to stay here for longer.
Nelson: Forsure. Anders [Lee] and I were talking about it the other day. It's pretty cool that we've both been with one team and hopefully we can stick it out and have long careers with one team and become familiar with everybody… I just think it's cool, I think it's special. It means you're a good player and could stick out a long career. To have it with one team means that the team values you and you've been an asset to them. Just try to give back to the fanbase and the team that gave you an opportunity to play.
NYI: What do you remember about game number one?
Cizikas: It was a Ranger-Islander game at the Coliseum [Editor's note: Feb. 24, 2012]. That was pretty crazy to say the least. Pretty sure it was a Tuesday - I don't know why I think I know that, I couldn't tell you what I had for lunch two days ago, but I remember that. The atmosphere was crazy. I took a penalty on [Brad] Richards and they scored on it. I think that was the longest skate back to the bench I've ever had, but it was an incredible game and an incredible experience. My family got to come down, it's not a long flight, so they were able to make it, it was definitely special.
[Editor's note: Nelson's first game as an Islander came during the 2013 playoffs vs Pittsburgh. Technically, that doesn't count towards the 500. His first regular-season game was Oct. 4, 2013 in New Jersey.]
Nelson: [The Pittsburgh game] doesn't go towards the 500. It was a crazy time... I was headed to play some golf at Bethpage and they called and said I was playing in Game 6 [vs Pittsburgh in 2013]. It was a crazy whirlwind there, but something you'll always remember.
[My first regular season game] was the season opener in Jersey. I remember just playing with Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a guy I grew up watching a bit when he was with the Wild. The spin-o-rama and a guy you kind of looked up to. Pretty surreal when you're able to hit that and get out on the same ice as those guys. You have to take a step back and say that was pretty cool.
NYI: How have you developed as a player over the past 500 games? What have you learned?
Cizikas: I just think you learn the game. That's the best way to put it. When you're young, you want to get out there, you want to get the puck, you want to do this, you want to do that, you want to throw a hit, you want to backcheck, you want to do all these things in one shift that aren't possible and you run out of gas. That's one of the things I've learned so far as I've gotten older, learned what it takes to play in this league. Some shifts you're not going to be able to do that. It's not going to all happen in one shift, it may take five for something good to happen, but it's building up towards that.
Nelson: It's a lot of hockey and a lot of different scenarios, but you definitely mature as a player and a person. Life kind of happens and you learn from it. Try to keep getting better day by day and find a way to stick around. You keep working on your game and be a part of something special.
NYI: You two are hitting the milestone around the same time, that has to be kind of cool.
Cizikas: I think so. Bailey as well, you could even throw Marty in there. Nelson, Anders. Pelech and Mayfield, those guys are younger, but have been here for quite a few years now. It just shows how tight of a group we have and we all started at one point in Bridgeport and made our way up here, so that kind of makes it a little better for most of us, we've gone through that AHL stretch and earned our way up here and ran with it as a group.
Nelson: It's cool to see guys grow up in the same organization and hit milestones. Guys that have been around a while: Bailey, Casey and it just means you're a good player, a good teammate and you're in a good spot. You don't think about it too much until you're around the milestone, but then you take a look back, reflect and it's pretty special.