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Gonchar's milestone moment arrives 'so quickly'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar will play his 1,000th career NHL game on Tuesday night, when the Phoenix Coyotes visit Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Time flies, it's often been said, when you're having fun.

So it is that Sergei Gonchar can ponder the 1,000th game of his National Hockey League career and feel like the first one was played just yesterday.

"I never thought it was going to happen and it seems like those 1,000 games just flew by," said the veteran Senators blueliner, who is set to reach that milestone on Tuesday night, when the Phoenix Coyotes visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "Since I got into the NHL and started playing, I never thought about 1,000 games. It's something I'm probably going to be proud of, but I haven't really had time to think about it.

"It happened so quick. You're just focusing on the games and you want to do well. The next thing you know, you've played 1,000 games ... I never set up a goal to play a certain amount of games or get a certain amount of points. It just happened naturally. If you're in the league for awhile, you have that chance."

For Gonchar, the first opportunity came on Feb. 7, 1995, when the Washington Capitals called him up from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. He couldn't help smiling as he recalled the moment following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place.

"The game was in Buffalo," said Gonchar, the 14th overall pick by the Washington Capitals in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. "It was a tight game, a close game. I think it was 2-1 ... we played a very defensive style at the time. I just remember it was a great feeling. When I was growing up, I never dreamed of playing in the NHL. As a Russian guy, at the time you only dreamed about playing for your local pro team or maybe the national team if you were good enough.

"Then I got drafted, came over here and everything happened so quickly. I was amazed and very happy."

Only five Russians have hit the 1,000 game milestone in NHL service: Sergei Fedorov (1,248), current teammate Alex Kovalev (1,236), Slava Kozlov (1,182), Alexei Zhitnik (1,085) and Sergei Zubov (1,068). The 36-year-old Gonchar, who signed a three-year contract with the Senators on July 1, will climb near the top of that list before he's done.

"I would like to play as long as I can," said Gonchar, who spent the previous five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, earning a Stanley Cup ring in 2009. "I'm still enjoying the game and the fun on the ice, and it's fun being around the guys. I like to win and when you're winning, it's a special feeling and it never gets old.

"One of the goals for me is to play at the Olympic Games in Sochi back home (in 2014). It's the first Winter Olympics back home in Russia. It's a very big thing for us back home and it would be nice to be there."

Around the boards

Jason Spezza (groin) skated with the team before practice today but head coach Cory Clouston termed the team's No. 1 centre "doubtful" for Tuesday night's matchup with the Coyotes, adding he's hopeful Spezza will be good to go for Thursday's visit by the Florida Panthers to Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) ... Defenceman Filip Kuba (broken leg) and goaltender Pascal Leclaire (groin) skated in full equipment and are both nearing a return to the lineup. Clouston suggested Kuba is likely 10 days away from a return to the lineup, with Leclaire due back sooner than that. "They're going to need a few practices with the team before they can play," said Clouston. "Until both of them feel the pressure of a practice and test it in that practice, it's kind of day-by-day. They both had a good skate this morning and everything seemed real positive."

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