COLUMBUS -- Michael Peca knows he could have reached this significant milestone long ago.
Still, skating in his 700th National Hockey League game last night meant something to the battle-worn veteran.
"Any time you get to play for the amount of time that I have, it's good," Peca said before the Maple Leafs clashed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. "It means you are doing something right -- staying healthy and keeping yourself in shape. It's nice to know I have stuck around for so long."
The 32-year-old Toronto native has had his share of injuries since becoming a full-time NHL player with the Vancouver Canucks after a lockout wiped out a large chunk of the 1994-95 season.
But he failed to come to terms with the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 2000-01 season and did not play a single game that year, and then came the lockout that killed 2004-05. Peca could have been closing in on 900 career games.
"I think I would have been even more proud if I had not missed a bunch of games because of contract situations," Peca said.
"But when I have had injuries, I have healed fast."
Peca's longevity is notable for a couple of reasons. He's not big and he does not play on the perimeter, happily barging into opposing players who often are taller and heavier.
It's that type of approach which has endeared him to teammates with the Leafs, Canucks, Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders.
"There is an intelligence factor in his game that allows him (to have played so long)," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
"There is no question there is a difference in styles of games when you look at guys who have played a long time. He takes his job very seriously."
Peca remembers that his first goal was against the Dallas Stars' Andy Moog at the old Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
"I took Gary Leeman's spot on the power play and Dave Babych made a great shot and I re-directed it to the far side top corner," Peca said. "It's something I will never forget."
Peca's only plans are to keep playing. Winning the Stanley Cup remains on his to-do list.
"You always envision the perfect exit, winning the Cup and enjoying life after hockey," the Toronto native said.
"As you get older and mature, if you feel you are competitive, your body is telling you that you have a lot of years left. When you are younger, you think you are going to play forever."