When Patrick Marleau comes out of the tunnel Monday night as the last Shark to hit the ice, just as his idol Mario Lemieux did on the Pittsburgh Penguins, he'll be doing so as the NHL's newest Iron Man.
Marleau, 41, is set to break Gordie Howe's NHL record for games played with 1,768 when the Sharks face their rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, at T-Mobile Arena. Marleau's in his 23rd season in the NHL, with 21 as a Shark. But it took a while for him to feel like he belonged on his road to lacing up his skates day in and day out.
"Probably around Year 5, maybe," Marleau said Monday morning to reporters. "Had some success fairly early on. I think I started feeling more comfortable with myself and fairly more confident probably around Year 5 where you've had some good years, you've played a number of games, but you feel like you've really got a good grasp on the hockey lifestyle and what you need to do to be successful."
That's exactly what Erik Karlsson has learned from watching his Sharks teammate, too. He admitted Monday that anyone breaking Howe's record is something he never even thought of and believes it never will be broken after Marleau does so.
But it's Marleau's consistency as both a person and player that Karlsson truly has admired.
"Consistency is key," Karlsson said when asked what the one thing is that he has learned from being Marleau's teammate. "He's a creature of habit. Even in this time in our life when things have been difficult and a lot of guys are taking the easier way out, whether that's dress code or spending less time at the rink and more at home, I think that he has kept his routine that he has had for so long extremely intact and he's stayed true to himself for every single game that he's played so far in this league.
"That tells you a lot about the dedication that he has to this game and why he's in the situation that he's in."
Marleau's life since he was 18 years old has been that of an NHL player. He carries himself with a business-like demeanor, as someone who clocks in and clocks out, always getting the job done.
On Monday morning, he showed more emotions than many reporters are used to seeing. If it were up to him, he would just be focusing on another hockey game instead of all the other hoopla.
While his emotions are spinning, he made it clear he's thankful for everyone who put effort into making this a special night.
"There's a game to be played tonight for sure, but there's a lot of other things going on at the same time," Marleau said. "Trying to balance both of those things and make sure I'm ready to play when the puck drops, but also take it all in at the same time."
The one thing Marleau didn't want to do during his pre-skate interview was forget anyone to thank. That's an impossible task, and he knows it. There are so many people to thank along this journey and he's beyond grateful to those who have reached out to in recent days.
Marleau's text message history has been a who's who of NHL greats, including Wayne Gretzky and Mark Howe, who's the son of Gordie Howe and played 16 seasons in the NHL himself, as well as a number of former teammates.
Even his current rivals like Golden Knights goalie Marc-André Fleury and his coach Peter DeBoer, who coached Marleau for a handful of years in San Jose, have expressed the utmost respect for Marleau. That's when we saw a different side of Marleau, with his words trickling out behind his battle of fighting back tears.
"Yeah it's uhh ... it's uhh ... it's super special to have that respect and have guys say such kind words," Marleau said with cherry cheeks and watery eyes. "You go and you battle with these guys day in and day out. You play against them, they know the grind, they know what it takes to play in this league and for them to show their respects and have all these kind words, it's very humbling."
Tears quickly turned to laughs as every side of the Sharks legend was revealed before he made history. Howe and Marleau might have been on the same track of ultimate toughness in a game where lost teeth are a badge of honor, but they're much different players.
Howe dropped his gloves so much over his 26-year NHL career, the term "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" was created for a player who scored a goal, recorded an assist and got in a fight all in the same game.
Will Marleau make history in true Howe fashion with his own Gordie Howe Hat Trick? His friends sure hope so.
"Some people have texted me saying to try and get that done tonight," Marleau said, chortling before his answer. "I can do with the goal and the assist, and if it has to come to a fight, maybe I can do a wrestling match with somebody if they're willing.
"That'd be a pretty cool way to have a good night."
He laughed, he cried and hours later he'll make history. When that happens, Patrick Marleau will be his truest self, one that Sharks fans have cheered for more than 20 years. He'll be the exact word that describes him best.