Milan Hejduk described several times his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in 1998. Joe Sakic and Keith Jones assisted as the Colorado Avalanche lost to the Ottawa Senators 5-3. It was an unremarkable game if not for that goal, but years later, as Sakic delivered his former Stanley Cup Champion line mate his silver stick, it suddenly had significance. Last night, Hejduk joined Sakic as the only players to play over 1,000 games with the Quebec Nordiques/Avalanche. Hejduk is the lone player with the accomplishment while playing only for the Avalanche. Colorado lost an unremarkable 1,000th game to the Dallas Stars 3-2, but it had great significance to me.
I fell in love with hockey when the Avalanche moved to Colorado in 1995. Quickly realizing that I was not destined to be an NHL player, a job that seemed as mythical to me as becoming Superman, I turned instead to the media. The idea of covering an Avalanche game carried me all the way to my senior year of college as a journalism major at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Through an internship with 850 KOA, I realized my dream of covering the Avalanche in person, as Hejduk played in his 1,000th game last night.
Hockey has a special energy and the people around hockey exude that fast paced lifestyle, even in the press box. I have been in press boxes for the other three major sports, but hockey has a different vibe, a mix of tradition and fanaticism, that sets it on a different level. Even on a mundane night at the Pepsi Center where the Avalanche played their way out of the contest, this special aura existed in the press box and the locker room as I covered my first game.
The game was set up in a magical way. When Joe Sakic walked onto the ice, it seemed only right that my childhood hero would be on hand as I sat in the back of the press box. I was in a row of friends that included the memorial plaque placed in the box to honor my friend Jessica Redfield. Hejduk scored the Avalanche’s first goal of the game and his first of the season as he moved two away from the 800 point mark. It’s only fitting that the last symbol of the Avs glory days notch a goal on a special night when his kids joined him for the national anthem. 1,000 games later and Hejduk’s professionalism is still apparent every moment he is on the ice.
Later in the locker room, he told a small crowd that story of his first goal in his first game. One reporter asked if Hejduk felt 1,000 games had arrived quickly and Hejduk agreed, but said he felt this milestone would stand out more when he retired. If I am ever lucky enough to ascend to the crow’s nest press box of the Pepsi Center 1,000 times, I hope I feel the same youthful excitement as I did last night. Those who get to cover great athletes like Hejduk for so long are truly blessed. I can’t wait for game two.
Note: An edited version of this article originally appeared on Rant Sports