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: Mark Recchi #28 of the Boston Bruins rests during an intermission against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on February 27, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Andy Devlin/2011 NHLI)
: Mark Recchi #28 of the Boston Bruins rests during an intermission against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on February 27, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Andy Devlin/2011 NHLI)

NHL Saturday

Mark Recchi is the Marathon man Add to ...

There will be a record chase taking place on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre as the Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the Boston Bruins, although the man at the centre of the pursuit isn't certain where he is or what number he's headed for.

All Mark Recchi knows is that the more games he plays, the more text messages he gets from friends around the league with kudos for hitting yet another milestone.

The 43-year-old Bruin winger's latest feat was moving into fifth in NHL games played, passing Dave Andreychuk on Tuesday with his 1,640th regular-season game.

His phone started buzzing soon after he got off the ice.

"My buddies text me all the time, 'you're about to catch this guy, in this or goals or whatever,'" Recchi said. "I have no idea. But friends keep me in the loop.

"My Dad actually told me last night how many it is to pass Chelios."

Chelios being Chris Chelios, the grizzled defenceman who finally retired last summer at age 48, setting several longevity records of his own along the way.

Saturday's game will leave Recchi only nine games back of Chelios's games-played mark, one he will pass by the end of the season, barring injury.

And while he won't say it outright, Recchi appears to have every intention of continuing to play beyond this season, perhaps even long enough to challenge Hall of Famer Gordie Howe's NHL record of 1,767 games played.

Not bad for a fourth-round pick many felt was too small to play in the NHL when he was drafted - at age 20 - by the Pittsburgh Penguins 23 years ago.

"It's been great," Recchi said. "More than I could ever imagine, really."

Recchi's teammates, past and present, all marvel that he's going strong, still rarely missing a game - his last long-term injury was in 2000 - and playing 16 minutes a night with one of the better teams in the league.

"Before I played with him, you always knew he was one of the great players, but you thought he was getting a little old," said Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos.

"Then you play with him and see how hard he works and how much he loves the game. He's still going 100 miles an hour out there, still competing and he's still got that fiery edge that he's always had. That's what's keeping him young and why he's playing so well."

Hearing Recchi's name, Stamkos's teammate Ryan Malone's face lit up, and he started to tell his own story of idolizing The Wrecking Ball growing up in Pittsburgh.

"I used his sticks growing up, when I was 13, 14 and they were winning the Cups," Malone said. "Then I got a chance to play with him, really got to see what a great hockey player he is and what a great person."

With 575 goals, 954 assists and 1,529 points - 19th, 13th and 13th in league history - Recchi is approaching more than just games played milestones. He passed Mike Bossy's goals mark last month and sits two points behind Paul Coffey for 12th in career scoring.

While Recchi's contract is up at the end of the season and no talks have yet been held with the Bruins, he has emerged as a mentor to rookie Tyler Seguin - just as he did with Stamkos and Jordan Staal in previous stops - and clearly enjoys that role.

Feeling old, meanwhile, hasn't been a problem.

"I don't really feel any different," Recchi said. "I act like I'm 25."

(He gives away his age in a recent profile in Sports Illustrated, however: "All these guys play Nintendos, Facebooks and Twitters," he said of his younger teammates. "I have no idea and I don't plan on having any idea.")

As for what's next, Recchi isn't telling, other than to reveal that he would be willing to play a third- or fourth-line role down the line, as long as he feels part of a team's success.

With only 125 games for him to catch Howe, several of Recchi's peers said this week that the career games played record would be a fitting cap to his career.

"I hope he can keep playing," Malone said. "Just to see him, not only to last so long, but to have an impact on the game every night, to play such a big role on that team is as impressive as anything else.

"Now that he's lasted so long and been so consistent, he should be singled out as one of the top players to play."

 

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