CALGARY, Alberta – Jamal Mayers doesn’t remember much about his first NHL game. The second one, however, stands out.
“I’m from Toronto, and we were in Maple Leaf Gardens,” said Mayers, who played the first six games of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues in 1996-97. “My grandmother was around and was there to see me play. That was more special to me.”
And 898 games later, Mayers was enjoying another special one.
Mayers played in his 900th career game on Saturday, when the Blackhawks beat the Calgary Flames in a 3-2 shootout. It’s a great milestone for the forward, whose enjoyed a long career while being a very physical player. And looking back, Mayers is a bit surprised he’s reached this point.
“I don’t know if you’d have told me 17 years ago when I started this journey, that (900 games) would be the case. I would’ve thought you were crazy,” said Mayers, who played part of the 2009-10 season with the Flames. “Time flies, it goes by quickly.”
Mayers is in his second season with the Blackhawks, having signed another one-year deal this offseason. He was one of the NHLPA’s top player representatives during the lockout, taking part in many of the meetings including the one that ultimately led to the new collective bargaining agreement. But when the NHL resumed, his secure spot in the lineup didn’t. Mayers played on Saturday with center Dave Bolland injured, but has been a healthy scratch for five games. It’s been tough to take for a guy who’s played 67 games or more in each of his last eight NHL seasons.
“It’s been extremely tough,” he said. “First and foremost, I want to be supportive of my teammates and be there for them. But ultimately I want to win as a competitor. You want to be in there every night, and still feel I can do that. I just have to work my way, get back in there again and give them every reason to keep me in.”
Coach Joel Quenneville, who’s now coached Mayers in the early and latter stages of his career – the two were together in St. Louis for several seasons – understands how Mayers feels.
“He’s the ultimate pro,” he said. “It’s not easy when you have to sit a guy like that out, knowing the leadership he brings and how he competes. He’s been handling it OK but I know inside he wants to play in the worst way.”
Mayers wants to be as much a part of this team as possible. He’s been the consummate pro his entire career. And that career has been longer than he imagined.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “There’s no way I would’ve thought I’d be around this long. I’ve had a great support system, and I’ve been very fortunate.”