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Mark Recchi One of Few Athletes Remaining From That '80s Show

Oct 26, 2010 – 9:25 AM
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David Steele

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Mark RecchiWASHINGTON -- As Mark Recchi headed into the Verizon Center dressing room after a morning skate the day of an early season game against the Capitals, a Boston Bruins teammate slapped him on the shoulder and said: "How's it going, Recchin'-Ball?''

Just as quickly the player disappeared through a door, so it was difficult to tell whether that teammate was one of the two Bruins on the roster who was born after Recchi's first NHL game on November 16, 1988.

The longer the 42-year-old Recchi plays, the longer the list grows of ways he is unique in the NHL -- and in all of sports. Only one other current NHL player, Mike Modano, suited up in the decade of the 1980s. The two others in the Big Four sports include Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who hasn't appeared in a game since July and, although he plans to return next season, is still recovering from an injured pitching elbow; and Omar Vizquel, who began his career with the Mariners in 1989 and played for the White Sox this past season.

Being the last remnant in team sports from the days of big hair and parachute pants was not something Recchi had either expected or even aspired to when he debuted, as a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins."I was thinking five years, maybe 10 tops,'' he said recently. "I mean, when you first come into the league, a lot of players didn't play a long time. I was fortunate to play with guys like Joe Mullen and (Bryan) Trottier, who were great -- they played a long time. But as far as me playing that long, no.''

Trottier, an eventual Hall of Famer, won Stanley Cups with the Islanders a decade earlier, but by the time he arrived in Pittsburgh to play with Recchi, he was 34 and, Recchi said, "they were saying he was in the twilight of his career.'' Mullen had gotten the same treatment by Calgary a year after it had won the Cup in 1989, trading him to Pittsburgh at 33. Such players suffering that fate was the norm, Recchi said: "They got pushed out at that age.''

Recchi had no reason to think his career arc would be different. "When I started, I came in and I thought, 'Wow, if I can make it to 30, I'll be happy,'' he said. "And now guys really take care of themselves and pay attention. Training is so much more advanced than it was then.'' He started paying serious attention when he was around 26, he said -- he started eating better, and as he moved into his 30s became more conscious of how his body reacted to workouts and adjusted accordingly. Still, the possibility of playing in his 40s, in a new millennium, never came up.

"I'm very fortunate now; I never thought about it then,'' he said. "I was just hoping to prolong it a little bit. I had no idea I'd still be going now.''

Other things he had no idea he'd see: teams in the Sun Belt, and successful ones. Recchi won the second of his two Stanley Cups in 2006, with the Carolina Hurricanes -- who were the Hartford Whalers in his early NHL days. The team that traded him to Boston late in the 2008-09 season was the Tampa Bay Lightning. When he debuted, the Colorado Avalanche were still the Quebec Nordiques, and the Phoenix Coyotes were the Winnipeg Jets. And Modano's team, with whom he first dressed in the 1989 playoffs? The Minnesota North Stars, headed for Dallas in later years. (Another historic footnote: they both played back when the divisions and conferences were not named geographically, hence the Adams Division and Campbell Conference.)

"Those were great franchises, especially Winnipeg and Quebec,'' said Recchi, a native of Kamloops, B.C. "They were great places. Unfortunately, they weren't able to keep them. Hopefully one day the league will be able to go back there ... Definitely, it will help our game if Canada and those old cities can get their franchises back. They can be great franchises for the NHL again.''

Yet he couldn't knock the warm-weather U.S. locations now on the hockey map, three of which are among his seven NHL stops. Still, it was beyond his imagination as a rookie.

"Absolutely not. I always said, I wouldn't want to go down and play in Tampa; it'd be too nice and sunny,'' he said. "And when I went down there, I enjoyed it. But when I first came in, you'd never think that non-traditional markets like that would have teams. They have a great fan base in Tampa. Tampa's a good market, it's fun, but I never could have imagine when I first started, them having a team there.''

One of the factors that helped pave the way to such locations took place in that rookie season: Wayne Gretzky won the last of his nine NHL most valuable player awards ... as a Los Angeles King. The legendary trade from Edmonton had taken place three months before Recchi's NHL debut.

Mark Recchi in 1994

The historic markers of Recchi's career are numerous. Two of his Penguins teammates in his rookie year, Mario Lemieux and Paul Coffey, are with Trottier in the Hall of Fame. Recchi led the Penguins in scoring in 1990-91, when Lemieux missed most of the season with back surgery but returned to lead the Penguins (with the aforementioned "aging" Mullen and Trottier) to the Stanley Cup.

Recchi was traded late in the following season -- the first of his three career deadline-day trades -- denying him the second straight Cup the Penguins won, and eventually making him wonder if he'd ever get back. But his 2006 run with the Hurricanes gave him the second-longest stretch between Cups by any player.

He is one of 11 players in league history to play in four decades; only Gordie Howe has played in five. ("I read that the other day,'' Recchi said, "and I said, 'Whoa.' I don't think about that. Pretty neat, though.'')

He leads active players in games played (ninth all-time), assists (17th) and points (13th) and is second to Anaheim's Teemu Selanne in goals (22nd overall). Besides the two Cups, he played for Canada in the 1998 Olympics (he was on the world junior championship team in 1988 before starting his NHL career).

Those are measurables that make him worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame, and various hockey fan sites have tossed the notion out the last few years.

"If it happens, it happens. It would be the icing on the cake for everything,'' he said. "All I can do is keep working, and in time, hopefully they might think of me. But that's for a little while later.''

Recchi never thought about calling it quits after last season, and doesn't think about when the end might come. "It definitely gets harder as you go along,'' he said. "I feel great, but the years might take a toll on me. But at the end of last year, I felt great, and I talked to Peter (Chiarelli, the Bruins general manager) right away to see if we could work something out. (I told him) "I want to be back, I want to be part of it.''

So, he suits up for season No. 22 (there was no 2004-05 season, of course). He plays on, in a lesser role now, mentoring the youngsters. And, occasionally, he is reminded that when he first took to the NHL ice, Ronald Reagan was still president (although only for two more months).

"Yeah, that's right,'' Recchi exclaimed. He shook his head and laughed. "Oh my God. Oh jeez. That's great.''
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