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Iron Man 19

Zajac within one game of Daneyko's team mark for consecutive games played

Monday, 03.14.2011 / 3:22 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Iron Man 19
Travis Zajac  GETTY IMAGES
Travis Zajac knew the milestone was coming sometime this week, but wasn’t sure exactly when.

As his streak of consecutive games creeps toward 400, it would be understandable for anyone to have lost count by now.

When the Devils host Atlanta on Tuesday, Zajac will play in his 388th straight game and tie Ken Daneyko for the longest streak in Devils history. He has appeared in all 246 games over the last three seasons, and all 68 this year.

Now in his fifth NHL season, Zajac has missed just two games since his 2006-07 NHL debut. Both came in the first month of his rookie campaign: Oct. 21 at Ottawa, and Oct. 24 in Pittsburgh. The Devils lost both games by a combined count of 12-3.

Humble as always, Zajac played down the mark after Monday’s practice.

“I’ve just been fortunate enough to play in these games, feeling good enough that I can compete at a high level,” Zajac said. “I don’t think it’s a huge deal. You want to play. For me, I want to play in every game. You want to be out there. You want to compete hard. That’s the fun part about playing the game.”

Brian Rolston, whose practice stall is next to Zajac’s, shared his own theory on staying healthy.

“The secret is don’t practice hard,” Rolston joked. “That’s the secret to longevity.”

Daneyko’s streak ran from Nov. 4, 1989 to March, 29, 1994. The three-time Stanley Cup champion brought a hard-nosed physical presence to the Devils’ blueline for 20 seasons.

“I think it’s pretty impressive how a guy like Daneyko played in that many games straight being such a presence on the ice, blocking shots, playing tough minutes,” Zajac said. “As a forward it might be a little bit easier to reach than a d-man.”

But Jacques Lemaire gave his centerman full marks for his accomplishment.

“Some of it is chance — luck,” Lemaire said. “The other one is, the guy’s in good shape. He protects himself well although he plays in traffic. He knows how to go into the boards, he knows when he’s first [to the puck] what to do, he knows when he’s battling with someone.  I like his approach because he’s strong and he uses his body very well.”

A little good fortune doesn’t hurt.

“But you need luck too, because one stick, one hit, one night you don’t feel good, you get hit from the side and then you’re out,” Lemaire said. “Doesn’t take long.”

Lemaire was a Montreal teammate of Doug Jarvis, who appeared in a League-record 964 straight games from 1975 to 1987.

“He was like Travis when he played,” Lemaire said. “He knew how to use his body. When he got checked, he knew how to get hit. It’s an art being able to do this. You get guys, someone goes to hit them, they want to go against it right away. Sometimes, you’re in a vulnerable position, you have to do something else.”

As the Devils’ top pivot, Zajac averages 19:46 of time. He’s third on the team with 40 points and has 615 faceoff wins. Jason Arnott, who was dealt to Washington on Feb. 28, still ranks second with 385.

“You have to be prepared to play with injuries, that’s the bottom line,” Martin Brodeur said of Zajac's streak. “I’m sure he wasn’t 100 percent every single game of them, but you have to pull through and you learn to play, and he plays good minutes, too. You could be a third or fourth liner and play different kind of minutes, but when you play like Dano played all those years and him, those are important minutes in a hockey game. It’s definitely hard to be able to achieve that goal.”

To put Zajac’s mark in perspective, David Clarkson has the next longest streak with 89 straight appearances as a Devil. Overall, Henrik Tallinder has appeared in 173 consecutive games, though 105 of those were with Buffalo.

“It’s impressive,” Clarkson said. “I think it shows Trav’s character. He battles through things and shows he’s a competitive kid. He doesn’t like to miss a game.”

Clarkson knows how quickly injury can derail a season. He missed 36 games last year after a Zdeno Chara slap shot fractured a bone in his right leg.

“It’s a tough thing to do because you’re always going to have bumps and bruises, little breaks that happen or things that happen in your career,” Clarkson said. “Sometimes it’s a good thing to handle them early and get them out of the way. Trav’s a warrior. He’s a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. I’ve seen him in here where he can barely walk and he plays that night. He’s a tough kid.”

On Saturday, Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester extended the NHL’s longest active streak to 495, tying Karlis Skrastins for the longest by a defenseman.

The demands of the modern game, however, are making it more of a challenge to be in the lineup every night.

“It is, especially in today’s game,” said Lemaire. “Today, it’s faster, it’s bigger. Guys are bigger, they hit, they’re stronger. The traveling, the four games in six nights, three games in four nights, guys, they get tired. It’s tough to stay healthy. Look right through the League, how many guys play all the games? Not a lot of guys.”

Lights, Camera, Zach-tion
Zajac enjoyed Zach Parise's turn as "Detective Zach Parise" in a commercial for Easton hockey skates. The ad spoofs '70s cop dramas and features Parise decked out in a tan suit. (Watch it here.)

"I want to know how he jumped over the hood," Zajac said of Parise, who's rehabbing after knee surgery. "It’s good. He’s selling the game. It’s great acting. He’ll have a career after hockey."

Zajac added: "He actually looked pretty comfortable on camera."