Hockey players contributing into their forties isn’t a new phenomenon. Before my time, Gordie Howe and Johnny Bucyk played deep, with Howe scoring an incredible 41 points as a 51-year-old in 1979-80 for the Hartford Whalers. Since I’ve been paying attention, there have been a few solid players who have more than earned their keep – Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek and Dwayne Rolson (quietly having a nice year for the terrible Islanders) come to mind.
But I haven’t had the pleasure of watching one of them closely in my backyard, night after night. Mark Recchi, about a month shy of his 43rd birthday, is tied for the team-lead in game-winning goals, holds down Patrice Bergeron‘s right wing on the second line, serves as alternate captain, fights, hits guys, plays the power play, plays short handed, and probably makes coffee.
He had knee surgery this past offseason. In the 2008-09 playoffs, he played two rounds (and scored 6 points) with a kidney stone, passing it the morning of Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes. I’m sure there are other ailments he’s had to play through — who wouldn’t at that age? And with that comes obvious passion for the game.
Hockey players occasionally survive into their 40s. Mark Recchi is thriving, and it’s quite a sight.
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In searching for highlights, I found this clip from the 1991 playoffs. It’s Game 3 of the Patrick Division semifinals, and the Devils and Penguins are tied 3-3, seemingly heading to overtime. The line of Bryan Trottier, Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi are on the ice (what a combo!):
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Cut to last night in Tampa Bay, and the Bruins are lined up for their second game in as many nights. Tim Thomas, the puck-stopping machine he’s been, is back in net after making 31 saves the night before.
Boston goes up 1-0 early, then trades goals with Tampa until the third period. Tied 3-3 with under two minutes left, Steven Stamkos is called for a boarding penalty on Gregory Campbell, with a fight ensuing in the immediate aftermath. The commentators after the game (Mike Milbury especially) thought it was a bad call, saying it was a “bang-bang” play and “you can’t call that penalty that late in the game.” With all due respect, yes you freaking can. You can’t hit a guy on the numbers low and into the back boards, ever. That’s old news. If Stamkos had done that at the 10 minute mark, it’s a penalty with no dispute. If it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty. I’m sorry it happened that late, but I’m really not sorry at all.
I digress. With 1:50 left, the Bruins are on the power play. And I believe I saw 19.4 left on the clock (it was really 19.7) when Recchi, from the top of the slot, teed off on Bergeron’s pass, a wrister that blew past Tampa goalie Dan Ellis. It’s at this point when I wonder what my neighbors thought of me when they heard me scream, jump up from the couch, and yell again when I accidentally punched the ceiling.
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I didn’t think much of it when the Bruins picked up Recchi at the deadline in 2009. I thought he’d be a nice, complementary player for the rest of the season before riding off into retirement. I didn’t realize how much I’d grow to like him, and I certainly didn’t appreciate what a tough old bastard he is. He’s solid, he doesn’t put up with much, and he has as much of a knack for scoring the big goals today as he did 20 years ago.
If he wants to come back next year at age 44, he’s more than welcome.