|Sergei Gonchar waves to the cheering crowd at Scotiabank Place during a pre-game ceremony that honoured his 1,000th NHL game. At his side are Gonchar's wife, Ksenia, and daughters Natalie (front) and Victoria (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
One of Russia's finest hockey exports has officially taken up residence in an exclusive club.
When the puck dropped Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place between the Ottawa Senators and Phoenix Coyotes, veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar
added his name to the list of players who have 1,000 games' worth of National Hockey League service on their resume.
Gonchar became the 252nd NHL player to achieve the feat. Only five Russians previously reached the 1,000-game plateau — Sergei Fedorov (1,248), current teammate Alex Kovalev
(1,237), Slava Kozlov (1,182), Alexei Zhitnik (1,085) and Sergei Zubov (1,068).
The Senators and the NHL honoured Gonchar's milestone during a five-minute pre-game ceremony before the game against the Coyotes. With wife Ksenia and daughters Natalie and Victoria at his side, Gonchar received the NHL MIlestone Award from league executive Jim Gregory.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson
, who played his 1,000th NHL game back in April, presented Gonchar with a silver stick on behalf of his teammates. The blueliner also received a Tony Harris portrait from Senators president Cyril Leeder and general manager Bryan Murray.
"It was a great job," an appreciative Gonchar said after the game, which ended with a much-needed 5-2 win for the Senators. "The painting was great, my family was there. Everything was great."
Before the presentations, a career retrospective video played on the Scotiabank Place scoreboard. That got Gonchar's emotions churning before the opening whistle.
"There were so many things going through my mind," he said. "All the things I play for … when I looked at that video, I thought about that. It’s a big achievement. Not that many guys have done it, especially guys from Russia. So it’s a big thing for me, but I never really thought about it that much.
"There was a game and my focus was on the game. That’s why I’m happy that the team won."
"There were so many things going through my mind. All the things I play for … when I looked at that video, I thought about that. It’s a big achievement. Not that many guys have done it, especially guys from Russia. So it’s a big thing for me, but I never really thought about it that much. There was a game and my focus was on the game. That’s why I’m happy that the team won." - Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar contributed in that area, drawing an assist on the Senators' fifth goal, a power-play tally by Kovalev, his fellow Russian teammate. But that wasn't the statistic that mattered most to Gonchar when the final horn sounded.
"It’s mostly about the win," said Gonchar, who admitted following the pre-game skate that a victory would add just the right finishing touch to his special night. "We didn’t play well lately and to get a win and have a great attitude around the locker-room (after the game) ... it’s more important than the point."
His teammates were happy to help Gonchar get exactly what he wanted.
"It was definitely nice to get a couple of goals but, most important, to win the game for Sergei," said Kovalev. "It’s something to be remembered."
The 36-year-old Gonchar is playing in his 16th NHL season. A first-round pick (14th overall) by the Washington Capitals in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, the native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, also suited up with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins before signing a three-year contract with the Senators in July.
That he'd play this long in the NHL was never a part of his dreams growing up in the former Soviet Union, which dissolved into Russia and a number of other republics after the Iron Curtain came down in 1989.
"I grew up in Russia and at that time, not many Russians were dreaming about playing in the NHL," said Gonchar, who had about 10 friends and family members at the game against the Coyotes. "At that time, I was hoping to make the world team and then the next thing you know, you get drafted and then you're in the NHL playing. Now I'm playing in my 1,000th game, but it's not as important as a win tonight."