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Tracking the Storm

Gleason, Pitkanen Reach 500 in Same Game

Friday, 12.2.2011 / 2:17 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gleason, Pitkanen Reach 500 in Same Game
A notable and somewhat rare milestone occurred Sunday night in Ottawa for two different but essential pieces of the Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup.

Michael Smith
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Defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason each played in their 500th National Hockey League game, something that hasn’t happened since November 2007, when Henrik Sedin and Brad Isbister did the same with Vancouver.

“I didn’t really know it until after the game,” Gleason said. “I got messages about my 500th. You look back like, ‘Wow, it’s pretty quick.’ And you think hopefully I can do 500 more.”

Pitkanen said fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen made sure to let him know it was his 500th. But Pitkanen had also been counting for a couple of weeks since he was sidelined with an injury. He had missed eight games prior to Sunday’s match-up in Ottawa.

“I kind of knew because when I got hurt, it was 499 games. So I had to wait,” he said.

Gleason and Pitkanen – now both 28 years old, born nine months apart in 1983 – broke into the league in 2003-04. Pitkanen played 71 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in his rookie season, while Gleason skated in 41 for the Los Angeles Kings and 22 for their AHL affiliate.

“It was day-to-day for me. I was 20 years old. I was putting everything I had on the line every single day to stay there,” Gleason said. “So, no, I didn’t really think about 500. I never would have thought I’d hit 500 games. Being 28 years old, 500 games is not a bad career, but you want to continue winning.”

Pitkanen recalled his first game in the league – a 2-1 win for Philadelphia over the Buffalo Sabres. Pitkanen played over 18 minutes and recorded an assist.

“It was pretty exciting,” he said. “Time goes fast.”

As many young players in the league did at the time, including Eric Staal and Cam Ward, Gleason and Pitkanen spent the lockout year in the AHL – Gleason with the Manchester Monarchs and Pitkanen with the Philadelphia Phantoms.

Gleason joined the Hurricanes organization in September 2006 via a trade that saw defensive prospect Jack Johnson head west. Pitkanen came on board two years later in the summer of 2008. Today, they are important pieces on the Carolina blue-line.

“They’re guys that play a lot of minutes,” said Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes President and General Manager. “It’s hard to find defensemen that can play big minutes. They’re both strong guys, but they’re different players.

“Timmy is a leader on the team that we view as more of a defensive player, and Joni is a guy that kind of plays both roles,” Rutherford said. “[Pitkanen] can put points up, and he’s a big, strong guy. It was obvious when he was out of the lineup that it hurt our defense.”

Rutherford saw the same last season in the 10 games that Pitkanen missed with injury. Knowing this and knowing what he brings to the team, Rutherford re-signed Pitkanen to a three-year contract before the free agency period opened in the off-season. Gleason will be due a new contract this summer.

“He’s an important piece for us,” Rutherford said of No. 6. “At the appropriate time, we’d like to talk about that.”

With now over 1,000 games between the two defensemen, the Canes’ blue-line isn’t short on experience, especially considering the veteran presences of Bryan Allen and Tomas Kaberle. But even with the D (500 in Roman numerals) mark eclipsed, Gleason and Pitkanen said they’re both still students of the game.

“I think it’s almost harder to stay [in the league] because the game is getting younger and younger,” Gleason said. “It’s more consistency that you concentrate on, and you realize that you have to come to the rink every day knowing that your job can be taken away.”

“I think I’ve learned a lot of things. You learn that there are ups and downs,” Pitkanen said. “Sometimes you’re losing 6-7 games and then you’ll win 5-6 games, so you learn how to deal with those kinds of things.”

New defensive coach Dave Lewis has aided in the learning process. Gleason called him a “very good teacher,” as he often notes subtle ideas in different situations.

“I’m glad he’s behind us,” he said. “You’re always learning something new every day, especially in the games and video the next day.”

What’s next for the two defensemen? In the immediate future, both would like to get the team back in the win column. If recent practices have been any indication, that isn’t too far away. They’re also both in search of their first Stanley Cup. Pitkanen has been to the playoffs twice – once in his rookie season and in 2009 with the Canes – and Gleason’s first playoff appearance came in 2009.

And, who knows? Maybe each has another 500 left in the tank. Gleason said he hopes to reach the millennium mark. Pitkanen?

“Yeah, I hope so, some day. That’s a lot of games,” he said, smiling. “I still feel pretty young and fresh.”

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 76 48 21 7 231 179 103
2 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
3 x - TBL 78 47 24 7 250 204 101
4 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
5 PIT 77 42 24 11 211 194 95
6 WSH 77 42 25 10 227 190 94
7 DET 76 40 23 13 221 208 93
8 BOS 77 39 25 13 204 198 91
9 OTT 76 38 26 12 220 204 88
10 FLA 77 35 27 15 192 210 85
11 PHI 77 31 29 17 202 220 79
12 CBJ 76 37 35 4 210 234 78
13 NJD 77 31 33 13 170 197 75
14 CAR 76 28 37 11 176 208 67
15 TOR 78 29 43 6 204 249 64
16 BUF 77 22 47 8 152 258 52

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 71 22 28 -12 50
J. Faulk 76 15 32 -19 47
E. Lindholm 75 16 21 -20 37
J. Skinner 71 18 13 -22 31
V. Rask 74 11 20 -13 31
N. Gerbe 72 9 17 -13 26
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
J. McClement 76 7 13 -5 20
J. Staal 40 4 16 -6 20
J. Liles 51 2 17 -8 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 20 22 5 .909 2.43
A. Khudobin 8 15 6 .904 2.60