The ever-original Cam Janssen on his 500th pro game
When a player reaches a milestone, we talk to that player about the milestone.
The answers are, understandably, also standard.
If it’s a statistical milestone, such as goals, assists, points, shutouts, saves ... they have to give credit to the guys they play with. If it’s 100, 200, 300 games in the AHL; 400, 500, 600 games as a pro ...
“I guess that means I’m getting old.”
They chuckle, we chuckle.
Then there’s Cam Janssen. Nothing is standard about Cam Janssen. The man answers questions as if he has been given 10 minutes to consider his response, which despite being delivered less than a couple seconds after asked, is always thoughtful, honest and most of all, original.
“Really? I’ve only got 500?” he said. “Really? Cool.”
The standard responses are still usually honest, and they are always grateful. They don’t touch, though, the rest of this morning’s interview with Janssen after he practiced with the Albany Devils of the AHL, preparing for a three-in-three weekend. His next game will be his 500th. It may be Friday night against Hershey, or it may be in Albany Saturday or Sunday against Worcester or Binghamton.
Janssen was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fourth round of the 2002 draft, 117th overall. He has 336 games in the NHL between the Devils and his hometown St. Louis Blues, 163 games in the AHL with the Devils’ affiliates (Albany River Rats, then Lowell Devils, now the Albany Devils).
He also has played in 10 postseason NHL games, but when these things are tabulated, only regular-season games are ever counted.
So, officially, 500 will finally come sometime this weekend, despite seasons like the 2007-08 campaign, in which he played just 15 games (three with Lowell, 12 with St. Louis).
Janssen had to wait a long time to hit 500 (well, technically, he’s still waiting, but the good money says he’ll hit it this weekend). His gratitude for the stars aligning long enough for him to play this long put him on a train of thought that went all the way back.
“I’m glad you guys brought that up, actually,” he said. “I’ve played a lot. This is what, my 10th, 11th year pro, since the lockout in ’04. A lot of games, I missed from injury, and a lot of games I missed from being scratched up top in the NHL. So you think of 500, you look at it and I could have probably had 1,000 right now. But that’s never the case. Everybody has to go through that, some more than others. But it’s a great feeling, coming from Eureka, Missouri. Nobody played in the NHL out of St. Louis. Now you look back at the kids coming out of St. Louis, and there’s just so many. The youth hockey in St. Louis has climbed so much. These young kids right now, like Keith Tkachuk’s kids, they have one of the top teams in the nation right now. It’s a cool thing. You look back, and when we played, we had to play up in the Michigan Nationals Hockey League, and we would get slaughtered. We had no competition in St. Louis, so we had to travel every weekend. It was expensive, and my mom and dad had to move out of our huge house we had out in the woods, our dream house my dad bled and sweated for and grinded through to build. They had to sell it because of me. It is what it is, it was because of me. I was an expensive kid, but they believed in me. They did. They never hesitated. They never sat me down and said, ‘Hey, we need to think of ourselves before you. We’re going to have to cut back on the hockey a bit.’ Never. Never once. At the time, we don’t really think about it, but when you get older ... Money is a cruel thing. It’s either that you have a ton of it and you’re miserable or you don’t have enough and you’re miserable. And you know, my mom and my dad went through some hard times. My dad leaving every weekend, missing work, and not just leaving to hang out [with me], but leaving to spend money, spend money on me. So just reaching this 500th game, it’s a great feeling. It really is.”
As one of the guys from the St. Louis area who made it, Janssen takes a lot of pride in his Missouri roots.
“Dude, I’m the mayor of that city,” he said. “Absolutely. I’ve got two houses back there, one I live in and one I rent out. I’m back there every single summer. I love my town. I live in Eureka, which is about 20 miles south of St. Louis. Just out in a quiet little community, but close enough to drive into town. When I played for the Blues, I stayed in my house and drove to Scottrade Center every day. I was talking to my cousin the other day, who is probably my best friend beside my brother. We were talking about, ‘What’s the best place to live in the United States, do you think?’ And I said, ‘Probably where we’re at right now.’ It’s cheap, we know everybody. It’s a great little community, everybody knows who you are and they treat their athletes so good. I was actually talking to boys a bit about that today. We don’t have actors and actresses, we don’t have rock and roll stars. Your athletes are the celebrities in St. Louis. They love their athletes and they love their sports teams. That’s why a lot of ex-pro players from the Blues, Rams, Cardinals, they make St. Louis their home. It’s cheap, low taxes. It’s just a nice city, and they all retire there. I definitely go back there every summer, and I love it. I really do.”
The entire time Janssen was talking, it was through a broad smile, which is usually the case with him but it seemed even wider than usual. The only time anything other than pride and joy snuck into his speech was near the end. There was an ever-so-slight waver in his voice when he said “It is an absolute grind.” It was gone as quick as it came, and the tough guy might say it was never there, but it was there. And hey, it comes with the territory when you’re this passionate about something.
This was in response to the standard question, “Do you have another 500 in you?” Again, the answer given by the veteran winger who will turn 30 next month was anything but standard.
He got back on that train and went back a few years, then set it driving toward as many more as it’ll run.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I feel pretty damn good, man. I feel good. You know, the game has changed. When I first started, guys would, after practice, start drinking. They’d drink all day until 9 o’clock at night, go to bed, get up the next day and do it again. Now, you can’t do that. You cannot do that. You have to be on your game, you have to take care of yourself. You have to take care of yourself or you are going to be a step behind. So guys are playing at a lot older age now, and it’s really cool to see that. You take care of yourself ... and injuries are going to happen. If you get an injury, you get an injury, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But if you take care of yourself and your body holds up, you do the right things and you keep working and still have that drive — because a lot of guys get burned out, because it’s a grind. It is an absolute grind, but if guys still have that drive and take care of themselves, you can play for a long time. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to play as long as I can. I’m going to play as long as I can.”