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Blue Jackets' Hartnell to play in 1,000th career game

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Monday will be a big deal for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Scott Hartnell, when he plays his 1,000th NHL regular-season game, against the Los Angeles Kings.

His parents, three siblings, a couple of nephews and a few friends from his hometown of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, will be in attendance at Nationwide Arena for the feat.

"I'm happy my whole family will be coming down and be part of the special day," he told NHL.com last week. "It will be neat to have everyone share that milestone."

The Hartnell clan and others had dinner Sunday night in Columbus to celebrate his career.

"It was a really special evening," Hartnell said.

MOST GAMES, 2000 NHL DRAFT CLASS

Player, Team Draft Round GP
Scott Hartnell, CBJ 1st (No. 6) 999
Nick Schultz, PHI 2nd (No. 33) 931
Justin Williams, LAK 1st (No. 28) 888
Dany Heatley, ANA 1st (No. 2) 869
Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI 4th (No. 118) 862
Marian Gaborik, LAK 1st (No. 3) 849
Antoine Vermette, ARI 2nd (No. 55) 805
Jarret Stoll, LAK 2nd (No. 46) 771
Brooks Orpik, WSH 1st (No. 18) 757
Steve Ott, STL 1st (No. 25) 748

Being surrounded by those closest to him will be in contrast to how his NHL career began, Oct. 6, 2000, as an 18 year-old with the Nashville Predators.

Hartnell, the sixth pick in the 2000 NHL Draft, made his debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Tokyo; he took one shot in 6:25 of ice time.

His parents were not present to witness the occasion nor likely watched from afar.

"I don't know if it was even on TV back then," he said.

A few months earlier Hartnell finished his junior career with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, so it was a quick jump to face the likes of the Penguins' Jaromir Jagr, Jan Hrdina and Darius Kasparaitis.

Hartnell admitted to being overwhelmed by the situation, but not just because he was fulfilling a long-time dream of playing in the NHL.

"Part of it was being outside of Canada," he said. "I'd been to the U.S. a couple of times and then I went down to Nashville for training camp and then you're taking a 12- or 14-hour plane ride over there for the first two games."

Because of the time difference in Japan, Hartnell is part of an odd bit of trivia: He completed his first NHL game hours before the expansion Blue Jackets played their first regular season game, Oct. 7, 2000 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

In other words, Hartnell's career is slightly longer than that of the franchise that will honor him for reaching 1,000 games.

"You trying to make me feel old?" Hartnell said.

Hartnell, 32, will become the 295th player to reach the 1,000-game threshold, and the 27th active player to reach that milestone. Among those Hartnell will join is Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr (1,059), who stopped by the Hartnell dinner Sunday to offer his congratulations.

"It's an amazing feat," Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. "It says a lot about the player to play 1,000 games and Scott's that kind of player. He's the type of guy you hate to play against and when they're on your team you love to have him.

"It's a big milestone. We're definitely happy to be able to share it with him."

In 999 games with the Predators, Philadelphia Flyers and Blue Jackets, Hartnell has 262 goals and 308 assists.

"I've watched [Hartnell] since juniors and he just played through people," St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "To me he's a real heavy player. I don't know how he does it but every time there's a puck at someone's feet in a critical area he comes up with the damn thing every time."

While Hartnell has produced offensively, with seven 20-goal seasons, it's his maturity and durability that will make him the first player from the 2000 draft class to reach 1,000 games.

"It says a lot about longevity, health, doing the right things. Because if you don't do that you're not going to survive in this League," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. .

Along the way Hartnell has been concussed, broke bones in each foot, had a high ankle sprain and this season broke a finger. However, he's played at least 75 games 10 times.

"All in all it's been a very healthy and good career," he said. "I was a little more reckless as an 18-, 19-year old. I was always looking for the big hit and obviously used in a different role when I was that young. I was more of a third- and fourth-line guy just trying to create energy.

"A couple of concussions and you've got to analyze and look how you're playing. You realize if you keep going that way you're going to be out of the League pretty fast. I was able to find the balance between playing hard and being smart. That's helped the longevity."

The pinnacle of his career was helping the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, which they lost in six games to the Blackhawks.

Getting that close still motivates Hartnell nearly five years later.

"I just want to win. That's what it's all about," he said. "I've had some really great friends win and you watch them on TV planning their Cup parties. I'm a little bit jealous. It's hard not to be.

"To see the Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup in your building in Philly in 2010 was tough too. It's something that will drive me until I hang up the skates and move on to a different part of my life."

He thought he would win a title with Flyers but that dream ended June 23, 2014, when he was traded to Columbus for forward R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

It was a move Hartnell neither wanted nor expected, but after listening to Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen discuss plans for the franchise, he opted to waive his no-trade clause.

He had 157 goals, 169 assists and 908 penalty minutes in 517 games for the Flyers, and endeared himself to the fans with his blessing of the #HartnellDown movement that began on Twitter to guess the number of times he would fall to the ice in a game. He turned that into the HartnellDown Foundation which helps charities who support hockey and hockey communities through their works.

Hartnell said that's one of the proudest accomplishments in his career.

"I never thought I'd be a guy with my own foundation that I donate money to every time I fall down on the ice," he said. "It sounds silly but it's been a great thing for some kids in Philly and starting it here in Columbus as well."

He's starting to establish roots in Columbus as he did in Philadelphia, which is why he's happy that the Blue Jackets will honor him for his 1000th game Friday against the Flyers.

"They had to make a decision which day they wanted to do it," Hartnell said. "They made [the decision] a few weeks ago. I said, 'Whatever you guys want to decide.'

"Being against Philly, I still have a lot of friends, the coaches and everyone over there. It will be cool to see the trainers too. They did so much for me getting ready for games. Having a team there that's still fresh in my mind will be really neat for me."

The tough guy might even shed a tear Friday.

"It's going to be pretty emotional," Hartnell said. "You have some tough times along the way but I'm pretty blessed to play this sport and obviously get paid the way we do and live life the way we do. I'm very thankful for that."

Hartnell has 12 goals and 33 points in 46 games this season and shows no signs of acting age.

While a slew of injuries and inconsistent play have sunk the Blue Jackets to near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, Hartnell has no regrets.

"It's been tough. I'm not going to lie," he said. "Being traded, I wanted to come here. I liked what they had going on here. Whether it's injuries or not bringing it every night, it's left us with a lot of losses.

"We're still not out of it yet but I definitely envisioned a lot different path this year. But sticking with the program, there's a core group of guys locked up who I believe will have bigger and better years to come."

Hartnell is in the second of a six-year, $28.5 million contract and gives no indication that he's ready to skate from the game soon.

"I've been really close to winning the Stanley Cup. That's why we play the game," he said. "I still think about that time in my life and the great hockey our team was playing in Philly. We just fell short a little bit.

"I still have that focus and that passion in my head that I want to win the thing in Columbus."

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