The life of a hockey goaltender is quite different from that of a forward or defenseman. The equipment is different, the playing time is different, the stats are different – even the milestones are different.
As Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask approaches his 500th game, he could not help but compare the achievement to those of other skaters.
“They say it’s like 1,000 games for players,” said Rask after practice on Monday. “It’s a big milestone. I think you play 500 games as a goalie, you have to – it’s going to take some years. Just goes to show how old I am, that’s about it.”
A total of 334 NHL players have seen action in 1,000 games. When the puck drops at TD Garden on Tuesday night, Rask will become just the 72nd goaltender in NHL history to have played in 500 games.
“I think it’s a great achievement,” said longtime teammate and friend Zdeno Chara. “It just shows his durability and the way he takes care of himself and we are certainly very happy for him. He deserves the accomplishment and whatever comes with it. The [noticeable] part is he’s been playing really good and high quality hockey for a long time. Very happy for him.”
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy coached Rask in Providence beginning in 2008. He knew early on that Rask had the makings of a future standout.
“Did I think he’d be a No 1.?” asked Cassidy. “Yes. He had terrific technique already at 20, 21 years old. He was good athletically, competed. For him, it was just a matter of paying your dues, getting your reps type thing for goaltenders, learning the little details of being a good pro, practicing well, back to back games…He had all the other things, compete, technique, good athlete, good hands. Only a matter of time.”
The laid-back Rask kept it short when asked about the magnitude of the moment.
“Milestone game,” said the 32-year-old netminder. “it’s good. It’s fun. Played my first game against the Leaf’s and now milestone game against them, kind of cool.”
Rask’s first taste of the NHL indeed came against the Maple Leafs, the team who drafted and then traded him. On November 20th, 2007, a 20-year-old Rask turned aside 30 shots and was named the first star of the game as the B’s won 4-2.
Now nearly 12 years later, Rask will record his career milestone across the ice from the same Atlantic Division rivals.
“It goes by so quickly that you don’t really pay attention how many games you play total until you’ve reached some kind of milestone,” said the 2013-14 Vezina trophy winner. “Then you start looking back, like holy crap, it’s 500 and it’s been whatever years. Time flies, definitely. Just grateful that I’ve been part of this team so long and still in it. It’s awesome.”
Few things have changed for the Finnish stalwart in the past decade, but some of his teammates have seen him grow into the person he is today.
“I don’t see a huge difference,” said Chara of Rask over the years. “I think that he is obviously more mature and obviously way more confident in his abilities, I think he grew as a player a lot. Certainly, as a human being. It’s different now than having his family and kids around. I think he is presenting himself with a lot more poise and patience.”
That poise and patience has been on display throughout his accomplished career.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing with him, it’s been almost a decade now,” said Brad Marchand, a teammate of Rask’s since the 2009-10 season. “He’s such a great teammate on and off the ice. He’s very intense, I’m sure you’ve seen his moments over his time here. But he is so incredible. He is such a great reason why we’ve been as good as we have been and why we’ve made some really good runs.
“He’s been a great teammate and he’s so easy going and so easy to get along with him. Very happy for him. He’s had a phenomenal career and nowhere close from being done, very happy for him.”