When Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive baseball game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1995, the sitting President and Vice President of the United States were on hand to watch. Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis performed the National Anthem. Drop the number “2131” in Baltimore and many Orioles fans still understand the reference.
When Doug Jarvis played his 915th consecutive hockey game for the Hartford Whalers in 1986, he received a standing ovation from the fans at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum. There could not have been more than 15,126 fans cheering, because the building could not accommodate more than 15,126 fans. Drop the number “915” in Hartford and it might accurately reference the number of Whalers fans still living in Hartford, since the team hasn’t existed in 17 years.
Doug Jarvis? Who’s that?
Jarvis is an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins. He is the Ripken, the Brett Favre and the A.C. Green of the NHL. Unlike the Iron Men of baseball, football and basketball, Jarvis faced a unique set of challenges during his streak as a player, which ended in 1987.
Those challenges came into sharp focus this week, when St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester ended his consecutive-games streak at 737 — three seasons short of Jarvis’ record. Pausing for a moment to analyze what happened to Bouwmeester, you realize how much more fragile a hockey streak is than one in any other sport.
Bouwmeester was injured in the Blues’ game Saturday against the Ottawa Senators when he stepped on a crack in the ice.
Because of that, he couldn’t play Sunday. Bouwmeester’s streak was not just the longest active streak in the NHL, it was the longest active streak in any major North American team sport.1 The 31-year-old defenseman has blocked more than a thousand shots in his career. He has been checked into dasher boards and plexiglass and God only knows what else.
Here’s what Bouwmeester was doing on November 25, 2005:
Cal Ripken never did anything like this in the middle of his streak. (Not in the middle of a game, at least.)
Back to Jarvis. Do you know how his streak ended? He was scratched from a game, sent to the minors as a player/assistant coach, and never played another NHL game in his life. Tough business, hockey.
It’s the toughness that makes any NHL streak inherently more impressive than a streak in baseball or basketball or (arguably) football, where even a quarterback has the benefit of an offensive line to help him stay upright.2 When the range of possible obstacles includes a crack in the ice, an opponent’s fist, and everything in between — well, you get the picture.
Anaheim Ducks center Andrew Cogliano is the NHL’s new “iron man.” He will skate in his 563rd consecutive game Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames. Several Ducks players have missed games recently because of a strain of mumps going around the room. Beware the invisible enemy, Andrew.
Remember that hockey’s iron men are not actually made of iron. It takes good luck, good skill and apparently a strong immune system to avoid missing a game in the NHL.
Jarvis deserves more credit than he receives, especially considering the role he carved out as a defense-first forward in an era of unprecedented offense. And yet, his streak might not even be the most impressive consecutive-games played streak by an NHL player.
Glenn Hall once appeared in 502 straight games as a goaltender. For eight seasons he did not miss a minute of play — without wearing a mask, no less. This will never happen again.
All things considered, it might be the most impressive streak in sports history.
Gather the Grammy winners and alert the President.
1. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is actually in the midst of a longer streak. Considering death is sometimes around the corner (literally) for a professional auto racer, Gordon’s achievement cannot be understated.
2. Jeff Feagles actually holds the NFL record for consecutive games played, with 352 to Favre’s 297. But Feagles was a punter, and that does not require further explanation.