Adulation doesn’t come easy for hockey players like Sean O'Donnell
Unless you're a teammate, a fellow player or a serious fan attuned to all aspects of the sport, the most of important part of O'Donnell's game and those of his lot won't get the headlines or make any highlight shows. Preventing a goal with good defensive work never will be as sexy as putting the puck in the net with a fancy move.
But the 37-year-old Los Angeles Kings
defenseman has been playing quality defense for a long time, long enough to reach the milestone of 1,000 NHL games without a lot of attention or fanfare. Maybe it's fitting that he reaches the landmark Saturday night when the Kings are on the road in San Jose. After all, who's going to notice?
You can bet those in his dressing room will. Terry Murray
, himself a former NHL defenseman for four teams, said 1,000 games played in the best league in the world is a mark not to be shrugged at.
"To play a thousand games in any sport is a tremendous accomplishment, I think," said Murray, in his first season as the Kings' coach. "Certainly in hockey. It's the sport I know and I know how vicious and how violent it can get out there and how an injury can end a career so quickly.
"(O'Donnell) has been a great pro through his whole career."
Now in his 14th season, O'Donnell will get his moment in the spotlight when he will be honored by the Kings on March 31, prior to the club's home game against Dallas.
"For a guy who's the kind of guy that's not going to play in All-Star games or have any kind of records or MVPs, I think it's a nice mark to look back on as evidence of what you brought every night," O'Donnell told NHL.com following a practice this week. "Not too many guys have got 1,000 games. I think it shows that you need to be a good teammate and a pretty decent player to play that long.
"After winning the Stanley Cup, it's probably … well, it is the single biggest accomplishment I've reached as an athlete."
Fifteen previous players have played their 1,000th game in a Los Angeles uniform, among them Marcel Dionne
, Dave Taylor, Luc Robitaille
, Jari Kurri
and Rob Blake
Having spent seven seasons with the Kings, it also seems fitting that O'Donnell becomes the 16th to do so in their sweater.
The defenseman, however, took a circuitous route. From being selected in the sixth round of the 1991 Entry Draft by Buffalo to spending his first six seasons in Los Angeles, O’Donnell has bounced around a bit, spending time with Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Phoenix and Anaheim over a seven-season span.
It was when the Kings, recognizing a need for an experienced veteran on their re-tooled blue line that featured youngsters Jack Johnson
and Drew Doughty
, looked at their Southern California rival and found the Ducks willing to put O'Donnell on the market in order to get out from under some serious salary-cap issues.
, the former Anaheim general manager now in Toronto, opted to sacrifice O'Donnell, but found the perfect home for a player that had played a key, unsung role in the Ducks' run to the 2007 Stanley Cup. The return to L.A. has worked so well the Kings signed the Ottawa native to a one-year contract extension.
"I've always had a certain soft spot for the Kings," O'Donnell said. "During the lockout I lived here. Even playing in Anaheim, I lived in the South Bay and did the commute every day. I've pretty much lived here since I came out in 1994. I consider it home.
"He's been the perfect fit for us in my mind. He was excited about coming here. He's excited about the challenge, about working with our young defensemen and our young group of guys that's trying to push forward and learn a lot about the game, how to win and how to play the right way every night. He's accepted that challenge and embraced it. He's been a great asset to us."
-- Terry Murray
"To come back and play a seventh season in L.A. and sign on for an eighth, I can't think of a better place to do it. If someone was to ever do a picture of me with a jersey on, it would be (in) a Kings jersey. This is where I've spent almost half of my career."
It is a career spent winning battles in the corners and in front of the net. A career spent putting an outlet pass on target to a waiting forward as a forechecking opponent bears down on him. A career spent occasionally dropping the gloves to defend a teammate.
Most of all, O'Donnell has been a vital part of every blue line he's played on and carries a dressing-room presence that's only increased over time. Murray said the defenseman has handled his unofficial "mentoring" role with aplomb because he is a good person.
"He's been the perfect fit for us in my mind," Murray said. "He was excited about coming here. He's excited about the challenge, about working with our young defensemen and our young group of guys that's trying to push forward and learn a lot about the game, how to win and how to play the right way every night.
"He's accepted that challenge and embraced it. He's been a great asset to us."
Doughty said playing 1,000 games is "unbelievable," and said he hopes to reach that milestone. The Kings made sure to have O'Donnell serve as the example of professionalism by putting the rookie's locker adjacent to the veteran's cubicle.
"Being my (defense) partner, I don't think I would have had the success that I'm having this year," said the 19-year-old, a contender for the Calder Trophy. "Not only on the ice he's helped me a lot, but off the ice, he's been a mentor to me."
Longevity is a large part of the 1,000-game milestone but so is being durable. Even with his rugged, physical style, O'Donnell has played in every game for the Kings this season and has played in at least 78 games nine times.
The credit, he says, goes to annually working in the off-season with fitness trainer T.R. Goodman, who is based in nearby Venice. Goodman has a stable of more than 25 NHL players he works out each summer, including 47-year-old Chris Chelios
of the Detroit Red Wings
"For a guy who's the kind of guy that's not going to play in All-Star games or have any kind of records or MVPs, I think it's a nice mark to look back on as evidence of what you brought every night." -- Sean O'Donnell
O'Donnell said he got involved with Goodman during his first stint with the Kings.
"I've been going for about 10 or 12 years with Rob Blake
, Glen Murray
, Matt Schneider
and a bunch of other guys," he said. "I've been fortunate so far, knock on wood.
"I talked to T.R. the other day and I said there's no way I would have gotten to this milestone without his efforts and the things that he's done in hockey. I wanted to let him know that he's a big part of getting me here, too. He's been really helpful."
O'Donnell said he feels good enough that he's considering suiting up until he's 40, although he's taking it year by year at this stage. The Kings' improvement since last season encouraged him to sign a one-year extension at $1.25 million, the amount he's making this year.
If the Kings take the next step and become a playoff team, O'Donnell wants to be around for the organization's first postseason game since 2002.
"I'm very happy to stay here one more year," he said. "I'd like to play longer than that and with the Kings, if they'd be open to that. I'm going to play until 30 GMs say they're not interested."