This past weekend, Jason Chimera hit a huge milestone. In Detroit, he played in his 1,000th career NHL game. One thousand games of living out his dream. Even typing out that number, I can feel the magnitude.
There are only 309 players to ever achieve 1,000 games in the NHL. The sport is grueling on the body and mind, and even some of the most talented players, Hall of Famer’s included, never got the chance to play that many games.
On the morning of his big night, I made my way into the visiting dressing room at Joe Louis Arena to talk with Jason. It was one of the most insightful conversations I’ve had with a player all season. Here are a few of the takeaways:
1,000 games didn’t seem like a realistic goal from the start.
Chimera was nostalgic when I fired off my first question of the interview. He admitted he never thought he would play this many games in his career. As a young forward from Edmonton, his first dream came true when he was drafted by the Oilers in 1997. Playing for his hometown team, Chimera joked that 1,000 games never crossed his mind at that point. He was happy to come into the room and see his name on the board, a signal that he would get a chance to play that night.
Know your role and don’t be afraid to change.
Chimera took his career game-by-game, season-by-season. He realized that he wasn’t going to be the best goal-scorer, but he had something to give to this sport and it’s fans. He shared his durability with Edmonton, Columbus, and Washington before signing with the Isles in the off-season. His role has changed over the years, and he’s evolved to embrace that.
You can’t do it alone.
Chimera knows he didn’t get to this point on his own. He mentioned the support he’s had over the years, including his family. But he also spent a few weeks leading up to the milestone thinking about many other people. All the coaches, teammates, trainers, and friends who have helped him along the way.
Even the following night in Brooklyn, you could see the pride on his face during the ceremony to honor him. He was so happy that his kids and wife were there to be a part of the moment. He understands and appreciates the sacrifices his family has made, including his parents, for him to play for this long at the highest level.
Be open to learning and growing.
I asked Chimera towards the end of our interview, what his advice would be to young players who are hopeful for a lengthy career like his. He was very clear about the answer. Talk less, listen more. He then chuckled that it wasn’t always easy for him since he talks a lot and that’s a part of his personality. But in all seriousness, his advice is valuable to anyone in the early stages of their career.
I was given similar advice about 7 years ago. It was a challenge for me then and still is today, but I’ve really tried to make a conscious effort to listen more. I’m extremely blessed to have one of the most knowledgeable hockey minds in the world working with me for almost every home game. When Stan Fischler talks, I try to be a sponge and soak it all in.
Chimera has only been with the Islanders for a sliver of his NHL career, but he’s making his mark. It’s not just the speed and the goals, it’s his presence in the room. His balance of humor and experience have players, like Brock Nelson, stopping to take notice. They are following his advice to really open their eyes, ears and hearts to the messages around them.
Doug Weight has preached passion for the last nine games. If the overtime win against Toronto was any indication, I’d say the players are taking Chimera’s advice … and listening.