By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
How appropriate that Radek Dvorak would get his latest milestone out of the way early.
In the starting lineup against Minnesota, Dvorak played in his 574th game as a Florida Panther, the most in franchise history. Owning the franchise record for shorthanded goals (15), playing in his 1,000th game last season against one of his former teams in Edmonton, Dvorak now adds this milestone to his illustrious career. Playing in 1,066 games, Dvorak has recorded 211 goals and 330 assists while paying for Florida, the NY Rangers, Edmonton and St. Louis.
Reflecting back on his journey with the Panthers and the players he has passed along the way to the top of the franchise list, Dvorak almost gets choked up thinking about it.
"It means a lot to me," said Dvorak. "Back in 1995, the Panthers gave me a chance to play in the NHL. Standing here right now, again playing this game, it's special.
"It's a long time. It's 15 years ago when I started so I'm getting old. It's something special. It's awesome. Passing guys like Bobby Svehla and Olli. It's amazing. These guys played a long time for this hockey club."
Drafted with the Panthers first pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft (10th overall), Dvorak has come a long way from Tabor, Czech Republic - from learning a new language to learning a different game.
"I opened the English book on the way to the US," said Dvorak. "I was on the plane and I got drafted so I didn't speak any English at all."
But Dvorak got lucky. He had defenseman Robert Svehla (Slovakia) here to help him go through all the ups and downs in a different country.
"He helped me a lot," said Dvorak. "Him and his wife, I was like a part of their family for some time because I was a young guy, 18-years-old, everything was new for me. He showed me around. He took me for dinners. I stayed with their family for a long time. It was much easier for me to adjust to a new team and a new country so a big thanks to him and his family."
And that's why Dvorak is even more humbled by breaking this record than maybe any others. He's passing his friend, as Svehla finished his Panther career with 573 games.
What else makes the record special is that he accomplished it while playing in his "second home" and in front of the home fans.
"Florida, like I said before. It's my second home," said Dvorak. "This night. It's special.
"Playing so many games with one team, it's something nice and I'll remember it for a long time. It's my home. It's my second home so that's it more special.
"Hopefully I can add more games on the board."
Note: Dvorak will be honored for his record prior to the next Panthers home game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 22.