Patrick Marleau, a farm kid who loved hockey and knew that players like Gordie Howe had made it from Saskatchewan to the NHL, had faith in his own potential.
To say that Marleau has accomplished more than just making it to the NHL would be an understatement. Nearly twenty-five years after leaving Saskatchewan for the San Jose Sharks as a fresh-faced adolescent, Marleau is about to break Mr. Hockey’s record for most games played in the NHL.
On Saturday night in Minnesota, Marleau will tie Howe’s record of 1,767 games played, and then two nights later in Las Vegas, he will shatter it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve just loved the game,” Marleau said Thursday when asked what has kept him going. Since you already know what the Stanley Cup represents, it should come as no surprise that my lifelong ambition has remained unchanged: “Obviously, every kid’s desire is to lift that Stanley Cup.”
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Marleau has had a long career filled with postseason disappointments, but he has never been able to win the Stanley Cup.
At age 41, Marleau has already done a great deal in his career, including 566 goals, 1,196 points, three All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals for Canada in 2010 and 2014.
His unrivalled skating skills and consistency have allowed him to play 895 straight games since his previous absence at the age of 29. He has played with the flu, other illnesses, and even after the birth of one of his boys in 2009, when he chartered an aircraft to fly to Nashville to see a game with his colleagues.
“When I pass away, I want it to be known that I did everything I could,” he stated. Loved playing, being a part of a winning team, and just being a part of the game in general. The most important aspects are those.
When Marleau made his NHL debut on October 1, 1997, he was 18 years and 16 days old, the youngest player to do so since Lee Wharton, who made his NHL debut with the Rangers at the age of 17 years and 81 days in 1945.
He rapidly established himself as a top performer with 13 goals in his rookie season and then his first of 15 20-goal seasons the following year.
Sharks executive Mike Ricci, who played with Marleau for seven years, remarked, “He was an effortless skater from day one.” Maybe he was gifted with that.
This is what happens when you’re born with a natural talent for skating, are in peak physical shape, and put in a lot of training both on and off the ice. Many “effortless” players simply can’t keep it up for this long. A fun memory is when I used to joke that he could keep playing sports until he was 60. Of course I was exaggerating, but perhaps not as much as you think.
Marleau has said that he will not play again until he is 60 years old, but he also has no plans to retire at the end of the current season.
Like Howe, who played until the age of 52 and retired after scoring 41 points for Hartford in his final season, this mentality eventually led to his retirement. The 419 games Howe played in the WHA do not count toward his NHL total.
Although Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, and Chris Chelios came close, no one has been able to surpass Howe’s record, which was widely considered unreachable when he retired.
Mark Howe, a scout for the Detroit Red Wings who played 1,355 games in the NHL and WHA, said: “Records are made to be broken.” As the saying goes, “This one here would be really, extremely tough to break, but Patrick is finally going to accomplish it.”
Mark Howe joked that his father and Marleau might have gotten their energy from Saskatchewan oats. The similarities between Marleau and Gordie Howe don’t end there, either.
Unless you have a genuine passion for your work, Mark Howe says, you won’t be successful. It’s a terrific job to have if you enjoy going to the rink on a daily basis. When it starts feeling like work, that’s it. You can see he enjoys his work.
If the pandemic hadn’t occurred, Howe added, his family would have had someone present for the historic game, and his father would have been proud of Marleau.
Anze Kopitar, Ryan Miller, and Ryan Getzlaf, as well as past coaches and colleagues like Todd McLellan and Marco Sturm, have all expressed their gratitude to Marleau for his contributions to the league and wished him well during his final games against their clubs this season.
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It’s humbling that those guys did all that, Marleau remarked. You’ve engaged in numerous games and battles against them. You can tell that they care about each other. It means a lot to me that they care enough to come over and shake my hand and offer their congratulations on what might happen here in the next few days. That means a great deal to me, of course.