CALGARY – If the milestone passes with little fanfare, that’s fine with Jay Bouwmeester.
The Flames defenceman is a game away from setting the NHL record for most consecutive games at that position and he can reach 496 on Tuesday versus Phoenix.
Bouwmeester was tied with Karlis Skrastins, a former Florida Panther teammate of Bouwmeester’s now playing for Dallas, at 495.
Bouwmeester is not one to blow his own horn and does his best to stay out of the spotlight.
But he can’t duck the attention that is his due after playing almost 500 games without a break, especially with the minutes this lanky defender has logged during that streak.
“There’s nothing really magical to it,” Bouwmeester insisted Monday. “Have some luck on your side and try and be smart out there.”
The 27-year-old from Edmonton hasn’t missed a game since before the lockout of 2004-05 when he was a Panther and sidelined with a broken foot.
Bouwmeester has reported for duty every day since then regardless of cold, flu or the nagging injuries that would sideline a player with a lower pain threshold.
The off-season back surgery he had in the summer 2005 nearly caught up with him in 2005-06 because he wasn’t able to as much off-season preparation. But Bouwmeester persevered through the discomfort to lay the foundation for his current streak.
“Everyone has their bumps and bruises,” he said. “Sometimes guys will have an injury, more of a serious thing and it can come back. I’ve been lucky that way. Touch wood and don’t really think about it.”
Bouwmeester needs a few unbroken seasons to get close to Doug Jarvis’s Ironman record at 964 straight appearances. Jarvis played centre, sparking a debate over which position is most punishing.
“You can choose to not be physical as a forward, you can choose to not hit,” pointed out Vancouver defenceman Keith Ballard, who was also once teammate of Bouwmeester’s in Florida.
“For the most part you can avoid a lot of hits. As a d-man, you don’t really have a choice. Defencemen get hit a lot. He’s constantly taking a beating.”
A silky smooth and agile skater, Bouwmeester is Calgary’s premier puck mover. His job isn’t to overpower opposing players like Robyn Regehr or block shots like Mark Giordano, but broken toes and ankles from slapshots are a job hazard of every defencemen.
Contributing to Bouwmeester’s durability may be the fact he’s yet to play for a team that’s made the playoffs. But he has logged major minutes playing for both Florida and then Calgary, who signed him as a free agent in 2009.
In Florida, it went as high as 35 minutes in a game and he’s averaged just under 26 this season with the Flames, second only to Chicago’s Duncan Keith and San Jose’s Dan Boyle. Bouwmeester also tops the league in shifts played at 2,207.
“Since he’s come here, he’s probably played 20-minutes plus every night,” defenceman Cory Sarich said. “I’m sure if you go do the math and tack on an five extra minutes . . . my math’s terrible, but it will be a few extra games for sure.”
Hockey fans’ opinions of a player are often tied to his salary. There are those in Flames’ Nation who feel Bouwmeester should be scoring more than his current four goals for his $6.6-million salary because he scored 15 for the Panthers.
Head coach Brent Sutter says Bouwmeester has contributed to Calgary’s recent run of success in a myriad of ways.
“He plays a lot of hockey and does a pretty good job at it to,” Sutter said. “People talk ‘he doesn’t score’, but he does so many things well.
“He’s obviously a big part of our team, the minutes he logs, how he plays the game, the different situations we put him in and how he responds. To do it with longevity and know he’s a guy you can count on night in and night out is pretty significant for a hockey team.”
Skrastins surpassed Tim Horton’s 39-year-old record of 486 straight games back in 2007 when he was with the Colorado Avalanche. The Latvian was traded to Florida the following season and was Bouwmeester’s teammate for just over a season.
“It’s neat that youknow the guy and I played with him one year,” Bouwmeester said. “Pretty much, he was my partner the whole year. For him to do it, that was pretty remarkable because he’s a guy who does a lot of those things like blocking shots. That’s a big part of his game.”
Bouwmeester says he’s played in the NHL long enough to know how much off-season conditioning he needs to stay in the game and says getting rest is key at this late juncture in the regular season.
As for the prospect of an injury ending his Ironman streak, Bouwmeester says it’s not a question of if, but when.
“The bottom line is, if you can play, you’re going to play and you hope that something doesn’t happen,” he said. “Things do happen, so it’s probably not going to last forever.”