Rozner: Marleau's hockey record speaks to players' dedication

  • The Sharks' Patrick Marleau tied Gordie Howe for the all-time games-played mark Saturday, a record that for so long seemed unbreakable. On Monday, he passed Howe and set the record.

    The Sharks' Patrick Marleau tied Gordie Howe for the all-time games-played mark Saturday, a record that for so long seemed unbreakable. On Monday, he passed Howe and set the record. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Updated 4/19/2021 9:10 PM

Hockey is the least talked about and least understood of all the addictions.

Players themselves can't explain it. Most don't want to talk about it. They just want to go to the rink. They want to skate. They want to play.


Still, what's most extraordinary about Patrick Marleau passing Gordie Howe on Monday for the most games played in NHL history (1,768) is just how many of his 23 years in the league that he has played a full season, or very close to it.

It's basically every year.

It doesn't mean he has stayed healthy. Hardly. He's probably played half those games with an injury that would keep most people home in bed and a quarter of those games with something that would keep a baseball or basketball player out for months.

It's just the nature of the game. And it is the nature of the players that makes them insist they are healthy enough to go.


Remember Rich Peverley in 2014? His heart stopped during a game. In the tunnel behind the Dallas bench, doctors administered oxygen, inserted an IV, performed chest compressions and used a defibrillator.

Peverley's heart started again and less than five minutes later he told Stars coach Lindy Ruff he wanted to return to the game.

Doctors believe his heart stopped for about 10 seconds. After being shocked back to life, Peverley wanted to get back on the ice and was mad when told there was no chance that would happen.

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Boston's Patrice Bergeron played Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks with broken ribs, torn rib cartilage, a separated shoulder and a punctured lung that sent him to the hospital in an ambulance two nights earlier in Chicago.

Bergeron needed two nerve-suppressing, painkilling shots so he could play Game 6.

In the Eastern Conference finals that same year, Boston's Gregory Campbell played 47 seconds after breaking his leg on a shot block. Today, his attempt to move around the ice on one skate would go viral in minutes. Even then, he was embarrassed by the attention.

"I'm no different than anyone else on these two teams," Campbell said. "That's kind of the nature of hockey players. It's not me specifically. It's everybody in this league, the will to succeed and play for your teammates.

"There's 700, 800 other players that are tough like that and play through things every day.

"There are a lot of players right now that are playing (at less than) 100 percent, and there's a lot of guys that play through pain. I don't see myself any different from anybody else in this league."


Troy Murray played an entire series against Toronto in the postseason with two broken ribs and a broken hand. Duncan Keith returned minutes after losing a mouth full of teeth. Denis Savard skated on an ankle so ripped apart that he could barely walk from the locker room to the ice.

Chris Chelios -- by miles the best American hockey player ever -- is eighth on the all-time regular-season games played list, and No. 1 in the postseason, with more than 1,900 games combined.

And he wasn't standing out at center ice waiting for a breakaway.

An extraordinary two-way, puck-moving defenseman -- the most valuable asset there is in hockey -- Chelios played heavy minutes, the power play, the penalty kill and was pound for pound -- at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds -- the meanest, toughest player of his generation.

You didn't move 10 feet in those days without being hit -- but all he did way play, never mind the pain.

When Saturday's game was over and the 41-year-old Marleau had tied the record, every opposing player from Minnesota stayed on the ice and shook Marleau's hand, while his Sharks teammates stood in awe and watched.

That's respect.

It's respect for the job and respect for a willingness to compete, to show up every night with a desire to play despite all that might be wrong with an aging body.

Especially given the kind of money players make today, Howe's record appeared to be one that no one would ever approach, and yet Marleau has surpassed one of the great names in hockey history.

He did it by showing up. That's a punchline in many industries. In hockey, it's where the story begins and ends.

At least for a day, and though he might not want it, it is also quite a headline.

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