DETROIT — Kevin Bieksa played in his 800th career game Sunday and that’s a number he takes pride in.
But there is a caveat to that. Those are games that are counted for the regular season only, which is what the NHL determines as official. And in his mind, Bieksa feels so many more should be recognized.
“The preseason and playoff games are twice as hard,” Bieksa said Tuesday, ahead of the Ducks’ game against Detroit. “You need to get rewarded for the more playoff games you play. Obviously you’ve been doing something all right.”
Bieksa has played in 85 of those to date. Given the Ducks’ 2-1 loss to Detroit that keeps them outside the playoff picture, there is no certainty that the defenseman will add to that this season. But there is satisfaction in logging as many games as he has while playing a physical brand of hockey for 13 seasons.
As a defender who often plays above his modest size for his position, Bieksa has gone through plenty of pain and sacrifice in order to get to 800.
“I think I’ve played the game a certain way,” said Bieksa, now in his third season with the Ducks after playing his first 10 with Vancouver. “I play it hard and I’ve had some injuries along the way. Most of my long-term injuries have been freak injuries.
“I’ve been cut by a skate twice and missed four months and three months. I’ve shattered my hand blocking a shot. Broken my foot two or three times. Those would probably be my major injuries. But other than that, I’ve been pretty fortunate, if you can look at it that way.
Bieksa wasn’t a high-end prospect coming out of his native Grimsby, Ontario. The player who is called “Juice” by teammates and coaches throughout his career was a fifth-round selection of the Canucks who went the route of the NCAA and played four years at Bowling Green.
By his third year, Bieksa was thinking ahead if the NHL wasn’t going to be in his picture. A job at a financial firm in Milwaukee was seriously considered, so much so that he didn’t put in a full commitment of training during his senior year.
“I wasn’t packing it in but not dedicating and giving myself a chance afterward,” Bieksa said. “My dad actually wanted me to take the job and it took a lot of convincing to talk him out of letting me come home and train and give hockey one last chance.
“Nothing was guaranteed for sure. After college, I had to work my way up from the AHL. There was a lockout at the time, which made it even more difficult. But I’ve definitely earned everything I’ve gotten.”
The fallback plan has been put off for 13 years. Bieksa said he’s been around long enough to see players come into the league and go. He notes that some of his teammates in the early years “are either GMs or presidents of the team or coaches.
“A lot of coaches that I’ve played against,” Bieksa added. “Our coach in the minors, Dallas Eakins, was my first (defense) partner in pro hockey.”
While he thinks he’s closer to 1,000 games played than the NHL will officially acknowledge, Bieksa wants to take a shot at that recognized milestone.
“I want to play as long as I can,” he said. “As long as I’m having fun. As long as I’m able to contribute. That’s basically the only thing. If I can continue to contribute and play well and move well and not be hampered by injury, then, yeah, I’d love to keep playing.
“I don’t think I’m going to be Jaromir Jagr. I don’t think my wife will let me play past 40. But I’d certainly like to try to get there – 1,000.”
PETTERSSON BROUGHT UP
Marcus Pettersson earned his first promotion to the Ducks as the team called up the defenseman prospect, who has had a solid first pro season in North America.
Pettersson, 21, has been one of the San Diego Gulls’ better blue-liners in American Hockey League action. A defensive-minded 2014 draft pick in the second round, the Swede had not scored a goal but chipped in 14 assists in 44 games with the Gulls.
Having arrived from San Diego on Tuesday afternoon, Pettersson did not make his NHL debut as Ducks coach Randy Carlyle kept the same lineup from Sunday.
TIME’S UP FOR RASMUSSEN
Dennis Rasmussen was not claimed off waivers by another NHL team and the Ducks terminated the remainder of his one-year contract, paving the way for the Swedish forward to seek employment elsewhere.
Rasmussen likely will return to his native Sweden as he reportedly prefers that to playing in the American Hockey League. He had four goals and six assists in 17 games with the San Diego Gulls after being assigned there Dec. 29 after playing in 27 contests with the Ducks.
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