Iron Man Irony
It has been nearly two decades now since former Caps center Doug Jarvis established the NHL’s iron man standard by playing in his 964th consecutive contest. He played that game on Oct. 10, 1987, the second game of the 1987-88 season. That game turned out to be the last one of his career. Whalers coach Jack Evans scratched Jarvis for Hartford’s Oct. 11 game against Boston, and he never got back into the lineup. Jarvis’s record consisted of playing in every game for 12 seasons, and the first two of 1987-88.
Jarvis broke Garry Unger’s mark of 914 consecutive games. Unger was a guy who was more likely to get hurt off the ice; his hobbies included calf-roping, speedboat-racing and water-skiing. He set the mark on Mar. 10, 1976, breaking Andy Hebenton’s record of 630. Like Jarvis, Unger wasn’t injured when his streak finally ended. Atlanta Flames coach Al McNeill benched Unger for one game during the 1979-80 season, putting a halt to the streak.
Hebenton debuted in the NHL with the Rangers in 1955-56. In those days, the season’s schedule was 70 games. Hebenton played eight seasons in New York and another in Boston without missing a single game, a total of 630 contests. His NHL streak was snapped at the start of the 1964-65 season because he was playing with the Portland Buckaroos of the old Western Hockey League. Hebenton played another decade in the WHL, and did not miss a game until 1967 when his father passed away, a streak of 1,062 games altogether.
Prior to Hebenton, the NHL’s iron man standard was held by Johnny Wilson, uncle of ex-Caps coach Ron Wilson. Wilson’s streak began when he was a rookie with the Red Wings in 1951-52 and stretched through the end of the 1959-60 season when he was with the Maple Leafs. Wilson missed the first game of the 1960-61 season because of a contract holdout, ending his consecutive-games-played streak at 580 games.
Murray Murdoch of the New York Rangers held the record before Wilson. Murdoch debuted with the Blueshirts in 1926-27, when the league’s schedule was 44 games. He played through the end of the 1936-37 campaign — by which time the schedule had increased to 48 games a season — on Broadway, a total of 508 games. When Murdoch’s streak reached 400 straight games in 1934-35, the Rangers brought in baseball’s “Iron Horse,” Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, to help honor him. Murdoch’s streak ended at the start of the 1937-38 season because he was with the Philadelphia Ramblers of the AHL.
Murdoch held the distinction of “NHL Iron Man” the longest, a period of 22 years before Wilson overtook him in Mar. 1959. None of the five aforementioned streaks ended because of injury.
Why all this fuss about iron man streaks? Because a streak that is smaller than those of Jarvis, Unger, Hebenton, Wilson and Murdoch is about to fall. It’s a smaller streak — only about half the size of Jarvis’s — but it has lasted almost twice as long as Jarvis’s has. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Karlis Skrastins is poised to play his 486th consecutive NHL game on Tuesday against Florida. That would tie the all-time mark for an NHL defenseman held by Hockey Hall of Famer Tim Horton, who played 486 straight games from Feb. 11, 1961 to Feb. 4, 1968. Skrastins would break Horton’s record on Thursday when Colorado hosts Atlanta. That’s almost 39 years after Horton set the mark.
Fourteen NHL players have had streaks of 500 or more straight games, and 13 of them were forwards. The other was Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, who played in 502 straight games in the nets. That’s a record that surely will never fall.
It says a lot about the rigors of playing defense in the NHL that no blueliner in league history has ever surpassed the 500-consecutive-game plateau. Congrats to Skrastins on his significant achievement.