SUN Hockey Pool

A thousand reasons to cheer

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Mark Smith suited up for his 330th NHL game last night.

The fact his former captain Owen Nolan dressed in his 1,000th was astounding.

"That's so far ahead of my reach right now that I just can't even fathom it," Smith said with a grin yesterday morning. "It's really nice to see players reach that milestone. It's such a big deal. I couldn't be happier for the guy."

When Smith signed with the Flames late last month, Nolan was one of the first to offer the newcomer anything he needed. Not exactly what he expected from his one-time San Jose Sharks teammate, who was a little more serious when the two first played together.

"He's had a couple of kids. He got married. He's definitely changed a little bit in the locker-room and stuff," said Smith of the 35-year-old winger known for his nasty streak.

Still making his home in San Jose, Nolan skated with some of the Sharks this summer before coming to Calgary.

Patrick Marleau and Kyle McLaren have also noticed a change in their former leader, who was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2002-03 season.

"I think a little warmer," said McLaren, who was a 25-year-old in his first year with the Sharks during Nolan's last.

"He's embracing, I think, the role he has now. I think it showed all summer with the skating -- just how hard he wanted to get back into the game."

Added Marleau: "Definitely he's a little more laid back than before. Having some kids, it's a little bit different perspective on things. It's not a do-or-die kind of thing -- you do have that mentality before you have kids of your own."

There's one aspect of Nolan's life that hasn't changed, though.

"He brings the same intensity as he always has to the game ... with the need to win," said Smith.

"It's kind of like a disease with him. He wants to win so bad.

"You can see, 999 games (and) he's dropping the mitts with someone out there."

That makes the milestone only 219 players have achieved before Nolan even more impressive. His aggressiveness has led to many minor bumps and bruises over his past 15 NHL seasons and a few serious injuries, too.

"The style that he takes and the attitude, it's definitely a little harder for guys like that to make it to 1,000 games," said Smith.

McLaren is equally impressed. Not just because of the grinding Nolan does, but also of the way the league has evolved.

"It's crazy, especially in this day and age with kind of a youth movement in the league," said McLaren.\


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