Patrick Marleau tied Gordie Howe’s mark of 1,767 games played with when the San Jose Sharks played with the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
On Monday night, health permitting, Marleau will put an NHL record, contrary to the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’ll add to a lengthy list of accomplishments, of course, for the 41-year-old Marleau, who’d 566 goals headed into Saturday night’s game, to go along with 1,196 points, three All-Star appearances and two Olympic gold medals for Canada (in 2010 and 2014).
“Obviously, every kid’s dream would be to hoist that Stanley Cup, so I have been chasing this time, and that goal hasn’t changed for me, because you know what the Stanley Cup’s about.”
Really, the Stanley Cup has eluded Marleau, who made it into the Final once, in 2016, at a career with many playoff disappointments.
But it is his ultimate skating skill and dependability that has allowed him to play 896 consecutive games since last missing a contest, when he was 29, which is his heritage. He’s played via the flu and various other bumps and bruises, and he chartered a plane to join his teammates at Nashville to get a game in 2009 after the arrival of one of his sons.
“I want to be looked upon when I’m gone that I gave it my all,” he explained. “Enjoyed the game, loved the sport, loved being around the group, loved winning matches. Those are the largest things.”
Marleau made his debut Oct. 1, 1997, at age 18 decades and 16 days, that’s the youngest for any player in the NHL because Lee Wharton debuted at 17 decades, 81 days in 1945 for the Rangers.
He scored 13 goals as a rookie and then had his first of 15 20-goal seasons the following season as he immediately established himself as a leading player.
“That may be something that he was blessed with. Being a pure skater and being in tip-top shape and working hard off ice and on the ice, these are the results that you get. There are a whole lot of effortless players out there who can’t play this long. I recall we used to joke about and I would tell him he can play before he was 60. Obviously, I was exaggerating a little, but I wasn’t exaggerating as far as I thought.”
While Marleau will not play until he’s 60, he is not ready to hang it up after this season, either. It’s a similar mindset to that of Howe, who retired at 52 after posting 41 points in his final season for Hartford. Howe also played with an additional 419 games at the WHA, which don’t rely on his NHL record.
While players such as Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios approached Howe’s mark, nobody has managed to achieve a record many thought was faked when Howe retired.
“Records are made to be broken,” said Howe’s son Mark, a scout for Detroit who played with 1,355 games together in the NHL and WHA. “This one here, I thought would be a really, really tough one to break, but Patrick is finally going to do it.”
Mark Howe joked that the oatmeal from Saskatchewan could have been exactly what fueled both his father and Marleau through all those games. However, there is something else that Marleau and Gordie Howe have in common.
“You can’t take action unless you love what you are doing,” Mark Howe said. “If you love going to the rink every day and have fun at it, then it’s a great job to get. Once it becomes work, then you are done. It’s pretty clear he enjoys what he is doing.”
Howe said his father would have been proud of Marleau if he were still alive and that the family could have someone on hand to the record-setting match if not to the pandemic.
Marleau has generated that type of respect throughout the group, according to the well-wishes he’s received lately from celebrities like Anze Kopitar, Ryan Miller and Ryan Getzlaf, as well as from former teammates and coaches like Todd McLellan and Marco Sturm after his final games of the season against their teams.
“For those men to do everything, it’s humbling,” Marleau said. “You have played against them a lot of games, a lot of hard-fought battles. There’s mutual respect there. For them to take some opportunity to come over and shake my hand and congratulate me on what could happen within the upcoming few days, I do not take that lightly. That obviously means a lot to me”