900 games is a lot, but Hartnell isn't satisfied

900 games is a lot, but Hartnell isn't satisfied
December 6, 2013, 9:00 am
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Scott Hartnell will play his 900th career NHL game on Saturday against the Dallas Stars. (USA Today Images)

DALLAS -- Not many hockey players can say this, but Scott Hartnell can.

His first two NHL games were in Tokyo, Japan. They counted in the standings, too.

“I don’t think many people even know that,” Hartnell said. “We started against Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr and those [Pittsburgh] guys in Japan, which was really cool.”

Come Saturday, that will have happened 900 career NHL games ago when Hartnell takes the ice against the Stars.

“It’s amazing how time flies,” Hartnell said. “It’s been an unbelievable journey. A lot of great stories, a lot of great times. We live a great life to play this game we love.”

Quick, what comes to mind first among memories?

Because Hartnell was from Regina, Saskatchewan, the first time he went to Edmonton, he had to pony up with tickets. Twenty-five for his relatives and friends.

“That was a neat trip to Edmonton,” he recalled.

What next?

“Signing in Philadelphia was a treat and this great organization,” he replied without hesitation. “The whole Stanley Cup run in 2010. Coming back against Boston. That was definitely in my top five, for sure.”

Hartnell knew this milestone was approaching. He saw it in the media notes. He’s spent 13 years in the NHL -- seven with the Flyers.

“It’s gone very quickly,” he said. “We just finished up in Nashville where it all started for me. That brought back memories. Six or seven years, I was there. I’ve been in Philly longer than I had been in Nashville.”

It would have been cool to have played No. 900 in Music City. Or even at the Wells Fargo Center, but oftentimes milestones such as these occur on the road.

“I look back and remember I was sick one game at age 18,” he said. “A healthy scratch once at 21. Couple injuries here and there. It is what it is.

“Kimmo [Timonen] played his 1,000th last year on his birthday. I don’t think that has ever happened.”

Indeed, Timonen’s milestone came on March 18 in Tampa Bay.

“We started a long way ago,” Timonen said. “In 2000 … we became friends right away and roommates. We’re really tight buddies right now.”

Look around the NHL and you see the Sedin twins playing together for one team only. You see Patrik Elias and Marty Brodeur in New Jersey and you have Hartnell and Timonen, not with one club but two.

“I don’t think there is a couple who played on two different teams,” Timonen said. “I’m happy to see him get 900.”

Hartnell and Timonen came to the Flyers in an offseason trade in 2007. Hartnell has spent all 900 games playing with Timonen.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Hartnell said. “He’s my best friend. This could be his last year. We talk about being on the road and seeing cool cities and when will ever go back to Nashville and play them again.

“It’s a pretty cool milestone for me, obviously. A thousand games would be even more special. I’ve played a lot of games in this league trying to win a Stanley Cup and we haven’t been able to do that. Games are fun, but it counts when you get into the playoffs and play for the Cup.”

Incidentally, he has another milestone coming up, as well. Hartnell needs four points for 500 in his career.

At 31, he openly admits that he realizes that the only thing that matters at this stage of his career is winning a Cup.

Which is why Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals still lingers like a bad dream that won’t ever go away.

Patrick Kane’s short-side goal clinched the Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime.

“That game is still crushing to me,” Hartnell said, trying to laugh it off when you know inside he was crying.

He’s not the first immensely popular Flyer to feel that pain.

In 2004, when Ken Hitchcock’s Flyers lost Game 7 at Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jeremy Roenick, banged up and concussed, wobbled out of the trainer’s room and sobbed.

“We came so close and I’ll probably never get another chance,” Roenick said at the time.

It was devastating. Roenick was right. He never got another shot.

Hartnell wonders whether 2010 will be as close as he ever gets.

“You walk the hallways of Detroit and see those Stanley Cup teams and how great this team has been since the NHL started,” Hartnell said, referring to the outside walls in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena where the dressing rooms are.

Detroit’s Cup years and players' names are painted on the walls.

“To have your name up on a wall and be remembered forever is pretty neat,” Hartnell said. “The money is great, the fame, and everything that comes along with hockey, but if you don’t win a Stanley Cup, there is something missing from the whole deal.

“I’ve come to realize that in the last few years. The Cup is what it is all about. It’s not about scoring goals. It’s about winning it. That’s the bottom line.”

One thing saddens Hartnell. Timonen has talked of this being his last year in the league.

“We’re trying to make this a great year for him,” Hartnell said. “And obviously, a great year would be to win the Cup. We’ve got a lot of work to do and games to win between now and then.”