On Jan. 17 in Phoenix, Patrick Marleau will skate in his 1,000th National Hockey League game. The NHL has long recognized 1,000 games as a milestone event in a player’s career and presents a crystal trophy and a silver stick for the honor.
Sharks fans have witnessed several NHLers skating in their 1,000th game -- Bernie Nichols, Vincent Damphousse, Gary Suter, Gaetan Duchesne, Bob Rouse and Mike Ricci, among others. Some played quite extensively with San Jose and others just happened to be in the Bay Area at the right time.
What will make Marleau’s day special is he will be the first Sharks drafted player to play all 1,000 games in a Sharks uniform, a statement not only to the Aneroid, Saskatchewan native, but to the Sharks overall success as well.
Much has changed in Marleau’s San Jose tenure. When he debuted in 1997, the club was simply not good and had earned the “right” to select him second overall. The Sharks still wore their original uniform design (there have been two versions since) and had their original logo (which has since been updated). There have been black jerseys added to the equation and he even has a different number as he was initially given No. 14.
More than a decade later, Marleau still thinks he’s a teenager.
“I still feel like a young kid,” Marleau said. “It’s amazing how fast it’s gone by but I still feel young and I still love playing the game. It’s nice being here for the amount of time I have been and knowing the area, being a part of the community and putting down some roots. It’s hard to come by in this day and age, but I’m glad it’s worked out that way and I’m glad to call San Jose my home.”
Marleau’s favorite players growing up and as a player were able to do what he’s on track to do.
“For me as kid growing up, I always admired the players that played their whole career with one team,” Marleau said. “Like (Steve) Yzerman, (Joe) Sakic and (Mario) Lemieux. There are only a handful of guys who have done that and I’ve been fortunate enough to be here as long as I have.”
Marleau’s longevity has allowed him to put his stamp on the Sharks record books and it has been his skill level that has allowed the continuity. He holds the Sharks individual records for most goals, points, games played, game-winning goals and power play goals. In fact, most would argue he’s the fastest Sharks player ever.
Only once during his tenure has the club ever missed the playoffs (2002-03) and his play has been instrumental in that fact. He’s worn the “C” and currently wears the “A.” With the Sharks, Marleau has skated in three All-Star Games, four World Championships and won an Olympic gold medal.
When most players sign that first professional contract, the thought is they’ll play their entire career with the one club. The business side of sports can get in the way of that sometimes, as evidenced by only five other active players who’ve skated in more games while still with their original franchise. When a player stays in one place for so long and had other choices, it says a lot about the man.
“Right from Day One, we want to make this a place that players want to play and for a player to commit to being here and to everything that we demand of these players is quite a credit to him,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson said of Marleau.
“I think it’s very important because it tells a lot about the player,” Wilson added. “Players have choices and he’s committed to this organization. We’ve seen him grow, coming in as a young player to being a man and a father. He’s not only a great player but also a man that really understands the need to give back to the community. He and his wife are a wonderful couple. Here’s a young guy that going to play a thousand games and his best hockey is still ahead of him.”
In addition to his natural talent, Marleau’s work ethic is a contributing factor to his ascending to 1,000 games. Had there not been for the lockout in 2004-05, and presuming Marleau would have played his average amount of games, he would likely have been the youngest player ever to reach the total.
“Every player who plays this long, and at this level, is amazingly committed to the game,” Wilson said. “His accomplishments are truly impressive. To get to 1,000 games tells you a lot about training and professionalism. Playing injured and playing through illnesses and things like that is when a guy truly loves a game. That’s when people might not feel up to the challenge or to the task of putting their bodies through it physically or mentally and that’s when he has always lined up and shown up.
“He’s a true professional that does things the right way,” Wilson added. “A lot of it is putting in the work to maximize your capabilities and that’s why Patty is where he’s at.”
Returning the things provided to him by the Sharks fans is a big part of why he chose to ink a four-year extension this offseason in the city that has become his home.
“Not only Patty, but other guys also have had choices in recent years and they continue to make their commitment to this franchise and this city and they deserve a lot of credit for that,” Wilson said. “This player has accomplished a lot for the game of hockey in San Jose. His commitment is shown in the charity and community work he does. He does it to help people and do the right thing, not for the publicity side of it. He has tremendous respect from his teammates and from us within the organization and we’re proud of him.”
Respect from fans is one thing, but Marleau has the respect of his teammates as the longest- tenured franchise player.
“Hockey players understand that nobody is bigger than the game and the team,” Wilson said. “Really, what you give back to the game and your teammates and other people to help them on their journey really reveals a lot about your character. Those that know Patty very well have tremendous respect for him.”
The fans do the cheering and make the games fun, but it’s the friendships developed with current and past teammates that Marleau will never forget.
“All the different friendships and teammates that I’ve had here over the years have been great,” Marleau said. “From my first year living with Kelly Hrudey to later on with Adam Graves coming in. They were great at mentoring me as a young kid coming along. I talk to Kelly and Adam every so often. They both have busy schedules as I do myself, but we send texts here and there and keep tabs on how they’re doing and how their families are doing. Mike Ricci, he’s still around so it’s nice to see him here and know that we had that past together.
“Tony Granato, Gary Suter and Murray Craven. I probably remember the guys most from when I first came in,” Marleau added. “I had veteran guys to look up to and learn from early on. My roommates were Sturmy (Marco Sturm) and Freezy (Jeff Friesen). There are so many teammates and friends. I hate to start naming them because I will probably miss some. Vinny Damphousse was one of those guys who approached the game with an even keel and an even mindset and you never saw him get rattled whatsoever. That was something for a young guy to see.”
Those players had a role in Marleau’s development, but the bulk of the credit for the milestone goes to Marleau. And there’s more to come in the next several years.
“It’s exciting and this book has not been written. I feel like he’s just coming into his prime now and it’s hard to believe that he’s played 1,000 games,” Wilson said. “He amazes our other players when they watch a guy that big skate that quick. It runs deep. He’s truly a driven athlete. Only those that are driven and are willing to put themselves in (challenging) positions know what’s on the line. That tells you a lot about Patrick. He seizes opportunities, he doesn’t avoid situations and that’s something that those who know Patty well, and have been around him, understand that it runs very deep.”
Sharks fans can also take comfort in knowing that Marleau’s “book” will probably continue to be written in Silicon Valley.
“San Jose is home,” Marleau said. “It’s hard to see myself anywhere else. My favorite thing about San Jose is that you’re right in the middle of everything. You can go skiing, you can go to San Francisco and you can golf anywhere. The weather is unbelievable. Also, the people around here are great. They are friendly. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re in a great place like this. Yeah, this is where I see myself retiring and raising my kids.”
The accolades for Marleau are countless, but for a player who came to San Jose when it was still considered an expansion club, much has changed. Except for Marleau still wearing teal and amazing the fans with his speed and skills.