On verge of 1,000 games, Elias looks back
Less than three weeks after setting the new franchise record for goals, Patrik Elias is set to hit yet another milestone.
He'll make his 1,000th NHL appearance when the Florida Panthers visit Prudential Center on Friday night.
"It’s a lot of games played with one organization and I’m proud of it,” Elias said after Thursday's practice.
It's been that kind of a special season for Elias, who notched goal No. 348 in Montreal on Dec. 17, surpassing John MacLean for the most in Devils history. The two-time Stanley Cup champion also owns the club’s all-time mark for points (850), and set the team record for power-play goals (93) against Toronto on Nov. 2.
A lifelong Devil, Elias was drafted in the second round, 51st overall, in 1994. He’s the second Devil to hit 1,000 games this season, following Dainius Zubrus, who did it in Buffalo on Nov. 16.
“Our team doctor here, he said yesterday, ‘It’s amazing, I watched you since you were 19 and time flies,’” Elias said. “‘You’re already playing in your thousandth game.’ I said it probably would’ve been a lot sooner if I didn’t miss time with injuries. But that’s the way it goes, that’s part of hockey, and I’m happy to even get that milestone.”
Elias joins Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur as the only players to make all 1,000 appearances with the Devils.
“That’s obviously more special,” said Elias. “I’m going to have my closest friends and people that kind of followed me and helped me out throughout my career tomorrow at the game. My family will come for a bit. It’ll be nice.”
It's another significant achievement for Elias, who passed MacLean for the points mark back on March 17, 2009 – the same night Brodeur established a new NHL mark with win No. 552.
“Patty’s hitting a lot of milestones this year,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “It’s well-deserved. It seems like this guy’s been around for a long time and played at a high level for a long time, which is amazing.”
And he’s still getting it done. The most senior Devils forward (35 years, eight months), Elias is also the club’s leading scorer with 34 points (13g, 21a).
“That’s the one thing I’ve been amazed at,” DeBoer said. “He’s a 35-year-old, he looks like he’s 25 and he’s playing like that. I think he’s more efficient, obviously, than when he was younger in his management of his energy because he’s smarter. The fact that he’s so intelligent – he’s like another coach out there – I think it makes it easier for guys like that to play longer.”
Elias made his NHL debut as call-up in 1995-96, appearing in one game (Dec. 7 vs. Tor.) before returning to the AHL-affiliate Albany River Rats. Memories of the game itself have faded, but not the events leading up to the drop of the puck.
“We were on our way to Providence, if I’m not mistaken, and I got a call that there would be a private jet picking me up,” he said. “So it was pretty cool, although I was petrified of flying.”
Then it was finally time to hit the ice.
“I remember that I had a lot of energy and was just skating all around, all over the ice like a chicken with the head cut off. That’s what adrenaline does to you,” he recalled.
Asked who he skated with that night, one of Elias’ current linemates couldn't resist a playful dig.
“Stan Mikita?” Petr Sykora said, referencing the legendary Hall of Famer.
All kidding aside, Elias believes 1,000 games will feel just as meaningful as the goals record. But even now, in his 16th season, the ride hasn't seemed very long.
“Not really,” said Elias. “Everybody will tell you time flies all of a sudden. I went through great times, some great seasons playing with great players, then you have seasons when they’re disappointing, when you have to battle through adversity. It’s all part of the journey. It makes you grow up. You figure out what life is all about as a hockey player and just as a regular person, too. It’s how you face the challenges throughout the career and I’m pretty happy that I’m still doing it. I’d like to think that I’m doing it well a thousand games later.”
• The Devils met before practice this morning to go over what went wrong in Wednesday’s 6-1 loss to Boston.
“The easy thing to do would be to throw this tape out, but we’re not going to do that,” DeBoer said. “The disappointing part is, we had an opportunity to really make a statement against the best team in hockey and we didn’t take that opportunity this time. The next time we get that chance, we have to make sure that we do.”
The Bruins return to the Rock on Jan. 19. For now, though, the Devils are planning for their upcoming back-to-back. After hosting Florida on Friday, they visit Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Johan Hedberg gets the start against the Panthers.
"It's behind us,” said Elias. “Obviously we're disappointed with the way we competed in that game and that's the bottom line. But we move on. We had a good practice today, good video [session] and I think we know what we have to do tomorrow. It’s more about competing than anything else.”
Travis Zajac (soreness, 1 game missed) did not skate, neither did Anton Volchenkov (lower body, 2 games). Bryce Salvador had a rest day and also didn't skate.
Forward Steve Zalewski, who was recalled from Albany (AHL) on Wednesday, practiced on a line with Tim Sestito and David Clarkson. Center Jacob Josefson (clavicle) filled in on defense and was paired with Adam Larsson.