He's been a regular in the New Jersey Devils lineup for 14 seasons, and though the details are a bit fuzzy, Patrik Elias still remembers his first NHL game.
Playing with the Albany River Rats, Elias was recalled for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 7, 1995. Elias was 19 at the time and was drafted just prior to that season.
"We were on our way to Providence, if I'm not mistaken, and I got a call that there was going to be a private jet picking me up, so that was pretty cool, although I was petrified of flying," Elias told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I came kind of before the game and I don't remember much else from the game. I remember that I had a lot of energy and was just skating all over the ice like a chicken with its head cut off."
Elias wouldn't become a regular in the lineup until two seasons later, and has become the franchise leader in several different categories. Tonight he'll set another tonight as he skates in his 1,000 game when the Devils face the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center. Gametime is 7 p.m. and will be televised locally on MSG Plus.
Elias will become just the third player in team history to reach the 1,000 game mark while wearing a Devils uniform. Ken Daneyko (1,283) and Martin Brodeur (1,156) are the other two players. The milestone follows in a long line of records and achievements Elias has reached with the organization. He became the all-time leader in goals, setting that mark December 17 in Montreal. He's also the franchise leader in points (850), assists (502), power-play goals (96), power-play points (272), game-winning goals (77), overtime goals (15) and hat tricks (8).
"He's been certainly what you would call a pure Devil," team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello told Gulitti. "We drafted him and he spends two years in the minors and grows and has become a very special player and, in my mind, not only with the Devils, but one of the best all-situation players to play the game."
Elias' milestone game won't be against an easy opponent. The Florida Panthers lead the Southeastern Conference with 48 points, and have split two games with the Devils this season. Both teams are looking to rebound from losses.
The Boston Bruins blew out New Jersey, 6-1, Wednesday night at the Prudential Center. After David Clarkson gave the Devils a 1-0 lead 4:24 into the first period, Boston reeled off six goals - including three in the third period - to break New Jersey's home win streak. The loss was the second straight for the Devils, who enter tonight's game tied with the Washington Capitals for eighth in the conference.
Johan Hederg, who will start for the Devils tonight, said that loss was a wake-up call.
"The feeling of having those games is not a fun feeling and every time you experience (that) you realize you dont want to be there and it makes you come back to work with your work boots on and your mind sharp and as prepared as you can for the next one," he told Gulitti.
The New York Rangers defeated Florida, 2-1, in overtime last night at Madison Square Garden. They've lost their last five road games (0-2-3) and have been outscored 23-7. Florida has dropped 10 of their last 13 on the road against New Jersey.
The Devils beat the Panthers, 3-2, December 13 at the BankAtlantic Center. Kris Versteeg scored the game's first two goals, putting Florida ahead 2-0 at the midway point of the second period. The Devils battled back, with Zach Parise and Elias tying the game. Ilya Kovalchuk converted his chance in the shootout, giving the Devils the game-winning score.
Even with the Devils struggling, Elias acknowledged that tonight won't just be "another night."
"if you do that for one team, it's special," he told Gulitti. "It seems like every week you watch the NHL Network and someone has got a 1,000th game. So, all the sudden I feel like, 'I guess it's another night.' But I'm happy about it."