Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks ran for 1.768 on Monday. Time on NHL ice, setting the league’s record for most games played. Marleau passed Gordie Howe, the six-time top scorer and most valuable player named “Mr. Ice Hockey.”
Marleau started the game against the Golden Knights and after his first whistle the game was paused to honor him with an announcement, a video montage, a message from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and a long applause he delivered to the Las Vegas crowd Floor. The Sharks wore jersey patches with Marleau’s # 12 uniform, and goalkeeper Martin Jones had his own mask for the occasion.
Marleau played 17:21 and recorded a shot on goal in a 2-3 defeat. After the game, the Golden Knights lined up and shook hands with Marleau, the kind of awe usually reserved for the end of a playoff series.
“I didn’t know what they had planned or anything, but it was very special to see all the things that they did,” said Marleau after the game. “I know that a lot of work has been done by the trainers across the organization to make this happen. We saw all the stains, the t-shirts, the sweaters, they didn’t miss a thing. “
Before the game, he said he wanted to make sure he thanked everyone who was part of the trip.
“You can’t get this far without help and support, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Howe first set the record in 1961. The youngest player in the four major North American professional sports leagues to set a record for games played was NFL kicker Morten Andersen in 2004.
The 41-year-old Marleau has not missed a game since the 2008-09 season and has played more than 98 percent of the possible games in 23 seasons with San Jose, Toronto and Pittsburgh. To put its performance in perspective, the NHL will be welcoming its 32nd franchise for the 2021-22 season, the Seattle Kraken. They will be her 1,768. Play the game in 2043.
Since Marleau’s debut in 1997, the league has changed the rules, canceled a season due to a labor dispute, and the style of play has changed.
“The game when he started was completely different from the game he is playing now,” said Todd McLellan, Los Angeles Kings coach, who coached Marleau with San Jose for seven seasons. “Just think of the number of lockouts, the number of rule changes, the type of physical contact, the fights that disappeared, the intimidation factor, the type of referees we saw then for what we see today, technology, coaching, Goalkeeper, size of equipment. “
He continued, “If he started a journal from day 1 to now, I would be the first to read it because it could tell a long story about a great game that has changed over decades.”
That story would include Marleau’s well-decorated trophy case. He has won gold medals twice at the Olympic Games and once at the World Championships and the Ice Hockey World Championship. He ranks 23rd on the NHL’s list of career goals at 566 and placed sixth on winning goals in the regular season and playoffs.
But he lacks the NHL’s ultimate prize. Before beating Howes’ record, Marleau had already made another, albeit shameful, feat of longevity after playing most of the games without winning the Stanley Cup.
Marleau has played in four conference finals and a Stanley Cup finals series, the Sharks losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016. The Sharks entered the game on Monday and took a serious run to reach similar heights, 5 points out of one Playoff seat with 12 games remaining, but an elusive trophy still drives Marleau’s passion.
“I want to be seen when I’m gone, that I gave it my all, enjoyed the game, loved the game, loved being on the team and winning games,” said Marleau. “Those are the greatest things. Of course, if I can get a Stanley Cup win before I retire, that would be ideal for me. But just having the right qualities to be a great teammate and a great player is what I want to be known for. “
Late in his career, Marleau has become something of a liaison between his coaches and the youngest players on the team, putting into practice the early guidance he received from Sharks veterans, particularly goalkeeper Kelly Hrudey.
Peter DeBoer, who followed McLellan in San Jose and coached the Sharks to the finals, first met Marleau while coaching Canada’s U17 national team. DeBoer, who now trains Vegas, said teammates were drawn to Marleau’s self-confident but humble demeanor even then.
Classic and modern at the same time, Marleau’s path leads from a farm in Western Canada to a gamer who over time refined his conditioning, injury prevention and anti-aging routines and adapted his game as the sport evolved.
“What Patrick has and maybe missing in today’s generation is that he’s hard on the farm. He’s a big, fat, and strong farm boy from Saskatchewan, ”said McLellan, who is also from the province. “That’s how he started, and then he dedicated himself to training and fitness.”
Of the more than 8,000 players who have played in their history in the NHL, both were from Saskatchewan.
The two had a meeting at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal when Marleau and his eldest son were playing with mini sticks in an arena hallway. Howe took a stick from Marleau’s hand and began to play with his son. At one point Marleau said he was engraved on his mind.
But only Howe has played in five different decades. His career began in 1946 and seemed to end in the early 1970s when so many games manifested in the form of arthritis and other injuries.
After two seasons, Howe returned to the ice in 1973 to play with his sons Mark and Marty, and logged another 419 games in the World Hockey Association with the Houston Eros and New England Whalers.
The leagues eventually merged and Howe played another NHL campaign with the Whalers in the 1979–80 season. Marleau would have to play about five more seasons of the usual 82 games to dwarf Howe’s professional totals.
Mark Howe said that his father who died in 2016, I would be delighted if Marleau broke his record and that he held his competitors in high esteem.
“The knitting that connects people who have played for so long is passion,” said Mark Howe, himself a Hall of Famer. “He’s a good size and he’s a tough skater. He has scored a lot of goals in the years when the Haie peaked, big goals. “
During the first and longest of Marleau’s three stints in San Jose from 1997 to 2017, he helped the team play 17 playoff games. He went to Toronto, but the Sharks wanted to keep him so badly that Star Center Joe Thornton agreed to pay a lower salary for the team to take on Marleau.
McLellan once said that Thornton was “cut out of the old stuff” and described Marleau in a similar way. Marleau offered a link to hockey’s past. He, Thornton and Washington Capitals defender Zdeno Chara are the only remaining players drafted in the 1990s.
Even after setting the career record, Marleau can set another example of longevity.
If Marleau plays another full season next year, he would beat Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 straight games, though he would have to face Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, whose 912 games are the only active streak longer than his is.
And of course there is still the pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
“As long as my family is willing to continue to support me, to accompany me on road trips and to welcome me back home,” said Marleau, “we will try to keep it going as long as possible.”