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What Wayne Simmonds Hitting 1,000 Games Means to His Teammates

When Wayne Simmonds plays in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, his teammates might be the proudest onlookers of all.
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"There's not much that Wayne speaks of that doesn't come from a place of passion"

Sheldon Keefe described Wayne Simmonds on Saturday morning the way nearly everyone who's ever crossed paths with him tends to do: Passionate.  

That's how Simmonds got to where he is today. Not through handouts. Not by luck. Rather, through an impenetrable determination to live out his dream. 

And that's exactly what Simmonds is doing. The proud Scarborough native will skate in his 1,000th career game tonight, at home, on Hockey Night in Canada, and while playing for his childhood team. 

It doesn't get much better than that. 

"Growing up in Scarborough, pretty much anyone's who's a hockey fan knows about Wayne Simmonds," opined teammate and fellow member of Scarborough Nation, Michael Bunting on the Legend of the Wayne Train. 

"For him to get to 1,000 games, it's unbelievable. We're all just so proud of him. There are no easy games for him and the style that he plays, so we're so happy for him" 

Even if Bunting hadn't said it outright, it's no secret as to just how adored Simmonds is in the Leafs' room. The entire roster came to the rink on Saturday wearing specialy-designed "Wayne Train 1,000" shirts to commemorate their teammates' special occasion, even designing the logo themselves through a vote. 

It's a fitting celebration, really. 

For Simmonds to reach this milestone is nothing short of a miracle. 

The hard-nosed winger has defied the odds at practically every stage of his career; spending weekends as a teenager cleaning debris on a construction site to help pay for hockey registration fees, winding up dealt by the Los Angeles Kings less than five years after they drafted him only to quickly evolve into perhaps the league's prototypical power forward, or fighting off a garrish list of injuries that would've put an end to practically any other player's career. 

You name it, Simmonds has conquered it. Hockey has tried to beat him down countless times, only to wind up losing that battle after each and every bout. 

It's not as if those tumbles with the hockey gods didn't leave some scars, though. 

Simmonds may no longer be the 30-goal battle-ax he was in his prime, averaging the lowest ice time of his career this season on Toronto's fourth line with just four goals to his name. But the 33-year-old is still an integral part of the Maple Leafs' makeup regardless of his role -- something the Leafs made very clear when they locked him up to a two-year extension this past summer. 

That second year didn't need to be there. Simmonds, who joined the team on a one-year deal the year prior, likely would've stayed without it. But the Leafs extended their commitment to him for what seemed to be one main reason: they like their team more when Simmonds is playing for it than against it. 

And that sentiment trickles down to the players, especially 

"He's a physical presence, and he's really strong on the puck," explained Leafs defender Justin Holl when asked about facing Simmonds in the corners as an opponent. 

"So, I'm happy I don't have to deal with him"

Custom t-shirts, then, seem like a worthy "thank you" for all the bumps and bruises Simmonds has spared his teammates by simply playing alongside them. 

For Keefe, though, Simmonds is an asset. And a valuable one, at that. Whether it's through the impact that his experience has on the team's younger players, his role as a tide-shifting depth piece to complement Toronto's vaunted attack, or as a veteran voice that holds significant weight in an impressionable room, Simmonds is a coach's dream.

And that reality is one Keefe recognized from the beginning. 

"Really from the first time I ever met him, which was in my office over there, in free agency when we were looking to sign him, it was pretty clear" opined Keefe. 

"He has the type of character that you want to add to your room." 

So, when Simmonds hits the ice tonight, it will undoubtedly be a special moment – a testament to one of hockey's most endearing success stories. Simmonds clawed his way to game 1,000, fighting to earn each of the 15,485 minutes he's played at hockey's highest level. 

Ask anyone how he did it, and they'll all answer with the same word: Passion. 

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