'I'm proud:' Senators centre Derick Brassard to play milestone 1,000th career game

OTTAWA — There was a time last summer when Derick Brassard contemplated retirement. But the Ottawa Senators centre didn't act on the thought.

With some encouragement to stick around, he instead signed a one-year deal in Ottawa. Now, he approaches his milestone 1,000th career game on Thursday, when the Senators visit the New York Rangers.

Brassard will get the chance to celebrate the feat Saturday when Ottawa returns home to host the Columbus Blue Jackets — with whom it all began. Drafted sixth overall by the Blue Jackets in 2006, Brassard has played for 10 different franchises over a span of 16 years and compiled 211 goals and 330 assists.

“It’s definitely a milestone to reach 1,000 games, but it’s also about being able to play this long to reach that number,” said Brassard.

“I’m proud to make it this far. I’ve dealt with surgeries; I went through a lockout and there was COVID, so I’m proud that I lasted this long and can still come to the rink every day and do what I love.”

The last few years, having played for six teams since getting traded by the Senators in 2018, have been a challenge.

“I was starting to get a little frustrated with constantly being moved,” Brassard said. “But last year, I took two weeks off and once I started training again and saw there might be an opportunity in Ottawa, I got re-energized and wanted another opportunity.”

Brassard still remembers being a young French-Canadian making his debut in Columbus after spending time with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch.

“I was so nervous,” he said. “I don’t even remember if I had a rookie lap or not. I just remember I had to have Marc Methot often order for me when we went out because my English still wasn’t very good back then and I was kind of embarrassed to speak in restaurants and stuff.

“I learned English in the locker room. It wasn’t from watching TV or anything like that, it was just being around the guys and coaches every day.”

Methot, who played with Brassard in both Columbus and Ottawa, says Brassard’s talent was visible from the start.

“He just has a passion for the game,” said Methot. “He has that hockey IQ. He was so in tune with every player he played against and his teammates. He could tell you their stats, their tendencies and a lot of stuff that other guys wouldn’t have a clue about. He’s like a student of the game.”

Throughout his career, Brassard had the opportunity to play with some incredible players, including Rick Nash, Sergei Fedorov, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. However, one moment stands out most to Brassard.

“It was my first year and I can remember being in the faceoff circle and looking up and staring at Joe Sakic,” recalled Brassard. “That was one of those moments where I realized I had really made it.

"I had watched Sakic growing up and here I was about to take a faceoff against him. I’m pretty sure I lost the faceoff.”

Over the years, Brassard started collecting sticks from various teammates and opponents, including Sakic's, which is one of his most prized trophies. He only wishes he had started collecting them earlier in his career to have some older players’ sticks in his collection.

After five-plus seasons in Columbus, Brassard was traded to the Rangers in 2013, where he felt he really established himself as a player. His career bests of 41 assists and 60 points (2014-15), and 27 goals (2015-16) all came in New York.

“I had success in Columbus, but in New York I felt like I took things to the next level,” said Brassard. “Alain Vigneault really gave me a chance and he had a big influence on me as a player.”

Although unsure of what the future holds, Brassard hopes he’ll be remembered for the teammate he was and his passion, once retired.

“For me, it’s what he brings to the game, all those intangibles, and of course being a good teammate” said Methot. “Being a good teammate is probably the most complimentary thing you can hear as a player and he just brought a great attitude and a passion. I’m just elated for him.”

The coming year will be a big one for Brassard as he and his girlfriend, Elisabeth Lefebvre, will welcome a baby boy to their family.

While Brassard would have loved for his son to see him play, he’s content to simply share the many happy memories he’s made over the years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2023.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press