The Nashville Predators stood behind Steve Sullivan when it appeared his career was in jeopardy.
Thursday, the Predators and their fans will have the opportunity to stand and salute Sullivan for a career milestone.
The 38-year-old will play his 1,000th career NHL game when Nashville hosts Phoenix at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
“I spent seven great years there, I made a lot of friendships, a lot of friends away from the game and it’s a great organization that treated me extremely well, even through that rough patch,” Sullivan said. “They just stuck with me and believed in me through that stretch. It will be nice to go back and reach that feat on that ice.”
"That rough patch," of course, was a back injury that caused him to miss the entire 2007-08 season and parts of two others. He finally returned in January 2010 and played 41 of the final 42 games that season and all 82 in 2009-10.
He has appeared in 30 contests for the Coyotes this season, including one on Feb. 14 that was his first at Bridgestone Arena since he left the franchise as a free agent in 2011.
That night he was recognized with a video tribute of his time in Nashville. This one will be an opportunity to look back on his entire career, which includes time with New Jersey, Toronto, Chicago and Pittsburgh in addition to Nashville and Phoenix.
“I think I was about 10 days away from coming back and we celebrated Jason Arnott’s 1,000th game in Nashville, and I think at the party his wife was introducing him and she said he was the 230-some player to reach that milestone,” Sullivan said. “When she said that number I thought it was very small. At that moment, I was ready to come back and at that moment that was a goal that I set for myself. I was at 720-odd-games and I think at that moment there is when I thought that moment was attainable.”
Fewer than two weeks ago another former Predators player, defenseman Kimmo Timonen, became the 282nd player to reach 1,000 career NHL games.
Like Timonen, Sullivan got there despite a size disadvantage. He is 5-foot-9, 155 pounds but has put up sizable offensive numbers along the way.
He is Nashville’s sixth all-time leading scorer with 263 points and one of only three layers to score more than 30 goals in a season for the Predators. For his career he has 288 goals and 454 assists for 742 points.
“I think my one asset is being able to skate,” he said. “I think since the last lockout in ’04 — when we made the rule changes — it made a huge difference for me to be able to stay in the league and to be able to compete at this level for so many years. I think if you kept the rules the way they were before that lockout with the clutch and grab it would’ve been tough to make it this far.
“… I’ve been fortunate enough to hang around long enough to reach this milestone. So, in a game, where, rightly so, all the milestones should be team oriented, I am looking forward to this personal milestone.”
He is not looking forward to stopping any time soon either.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “I don’t picture myself doing anything else. That’s the scary part, right? I’ve done this almost half of my life at a professional level. So, this is what I love to do and I get to do it every single day. It’s definitely a blessing.”