VANCOUVER -- Mark Recchi has been a successful NHL player for longer than almost every other player in League history, but he's decided if his Boston Bruins win four more games it will be the final achievement in his amazing career.
Recchi, who turned 43 years old in February, had another solid season as a complimentary forward for the Bruins and could probably continue. His reasoning for wanting to call it quits if he gets to lift the Stanley Cup for a third time is pretty simple -- he wants to revel in the spoils of being a champion again.
"I know it because I'll never be able to train hard enough and have way too much in the summer," Recchi said. "It is too short. September would come way too quick for me. I think if I get that opportunity to win again, I'd want to really enjoy it. I'd try to want to be at as many Stanley Cup parties as I can be, so that's really what led to that [decision]. This is a special group, and if we do get that opportunity, I want to take full advantage of it."
Gordie Howe had 23 goals and 52 points in the season he reached his 43rd birthday. Mark Messier had 18 goals and 43 points the year he turned 43. Those are the two guys in NHL history who put together similar seasons at that age as Recchi, who had 14 goals and 48 points for the Bruins this season.
Howe and Messier have long been the gold standard in this sport for longevity, and Recchi's ability to be productive when his peers have moved on to other endeavors has made his career something of a marvel.
"I think he's a smart player," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "As gritty and tenacious as he's been throughout his entire career, he's smart and he knows where to be. When you can do, you make the game easier and be very effective in the games. He never had to rely just on his skating or just on his physical play in the corners. He always played like that, but that wasn't the only thing he had in his arsenal. He's been able to remain effective by going and being in the right places, and by being very strong willed."
Added Daniel Paille: "He might be the oldest guy on our team, but he shows a lot of heart out there every game. He takes a big pounding on the ice sometimes and still takes those big hits, especially now in the playoffs."
Recchi has become a key member of Boston's leadership group since joining the club at the 2009 trade deadline. The Bruins have plenty of talented, young forwards and Recchi has been counted on to provide them with guidance and wisdom.
He played with Patrice Bergeron on Brad Marchand a lot during the regular season and for the vast majority of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs when all three were healthy. Bergeron has become a top contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy and Marchand had an impressive rookie season while skating alongside Recchi.
"I've learned so much – on and off the ice," Bergeron said. "Just from the leadership standpoint, learning to become a better leader. Also, on the ice, all the little details that he has taught me have been something special. I'm so thankful that he has been on my path and on my team. Obviously, it's probably his last season if we win, so we want to do it with him."
Added Marchand: "He is unbelievable, just the way he carries himself on and off the ice. You sit there and watch him as he walks around and you just go, 'Wow, that's Mark Recchi.' It is unbelievable the amount of knowledge he has and what he's taught me throughout the year just being positionally sound -- when to make plays and what play to make with the score. I don't think I'd be half the player I am right now if I didn't have him on my wing."
At one point this season, Recchi ended up on a line with the 23-year-old Marchand and rookie Tyler Seguin, who will still be a teenager for another eight months. There was a picture of Recchi standing next to Marchand during the national anthem of a postseason game where the rookie was sporting a mohawk -- a stark contrast to Recchi's thinning hair.
He might be old enough to be a father figure for some of his teammates, but reverence seems to be a common theme for Boston's young players instead of good-natured ribbing.
"No, I'd love to be able to chirp [Recchi] but I just can't," Marchand said. "I almost get nervous when I'm around him. I lose my words. I just kind of smile at him and nod. If I could talk to him like that, I definitely would give it to him for sure.
"It is pretty special, the career he's had. I hope I can play half as long as he has and have half the career did. It has been unbelievable getting to play with him."
Recchi could become only the eighth player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in three different decades, and only the third to do it with three different teams. The other two to achieve the feat are Joe Niewendyk and Claude Lemieux.
He first won the Cup in 1991 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and again in 2006 after the Carolina Hurricanes added Recchi at the trade deadline and he proved to be a key figure in the franchise's first championship.
"I had a big gap in between '91 and '06," Recchi said. "I was very fortunate -- I won a World Juniors when I was 19. I won a minor league championship when I was 20, then the Stanley Cup when I was 22. Then I had a big lull. I was fortunate enough to win the World Championships for Canada in '97, but '06 was a long time. In '91, I was young and thought you could win every year, I'd be successful everywhere. All of a sudden you have a big gap. You learn to appreciate it. The biggest thing for me is in '06, I was able to watch and enjoy and see the guys' reactions, see how they're handling things. I could sit back and really just enjoy it that much more.
"It's the same thing now. All year long I've been able to watch the growth of our hockey club from day one at training camp, how guys have handled things, how guys have handled the pressures, some of them with new experiences. It's been so much fun for me."
It has been a special postseason run for Recchi and the Bruins, but if they do win defeat the Canucks and win the Cup, it could be a fitting ending to an incredible career. There is no question Recchi is going to enjoy the experience.
"B.C. still feels like home. Obviously Kamloops, that is my home," Recchi said. "My family is still there. It's a wonderful place to grow up. It's pretty neat getting back there when I can.
"I love this game, so no matter if I was going to play another year or if I am going to play another year, I would take in the same exact way because I went for so long in between [winning the Cup] that I do appreciate it. I don't take anything for granted, and I really haven't for a long time."