In rare company

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:14 PM ET

BUFFALO -- Mats Sundin has reached some significant milestones but he won't be able to do much about a rather large one if Teppo Numminen keeps playing.

The Buffalo Sabres defenceman quietly is approaching the National Hockey League record for most games played by a European. A native of Tampere, Finland, Numminen has appeared in 1,248 NHL games.

Jari Kurri has the record with 1,251 games. Sundin is third at 1,172.

"Back in 1988 (when he started his NHL career with the Winnipeg Jets), there weren't that many European players, so you wanted to come and see how it was and hopefully hang around for a couple of years," Numminen said. "It turned out to be a long stay. It's unbelievable.

"I have been lucky and fortunate. Just to be close to players I idolized, Kurri and Borje Salming, you never thought that could happen, so it is amazing."

At 38, Numminen, who also has played for the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars, is not fading away. In 12 games before last night's match against the Maple Leafs, Numminen had six assists and was leading the Sabres with an ice-time average of 21 minutes, 37 seconds. If he does not get hurt, - umminen will set an NHL record Nov. 13 in Carolina against the Hurricanes.

Former Chicago Blackhawks star Stan Mikita was born in the former Czechoslovakia and played in 1,394 NHL games, but learned to play hockey in Canada after moving to St. Catharines when he was a young boy.

There's more to Numminen's longevity than just staying healthy for the majority of his time in the NHL.

"He's smart and there is no panic in his game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He still has the desire to play."

After Sundin, Salming is fourth with 1,148 games. Fifth is the New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr at 1,122.

"It's a great achievement," Sundin said. "Teppo has been a really good, all-kinds-of-qualities defenceman in this league for many years. I'm very proud of (being near the top), and it's something you can look back on and cherish."


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