- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

Adam Oates' "significant moment," as he termed it, came eight minutes into the first period Friday night at MCI Center, almost four minutes to the second after Peter Bondra's.
It is unfortunate that there was hardly a ripple among spectators, because what Oates accomplished has been done only 20 other times in the history of the NHL, and 15 of those who did it are retired. Later, when his feat was posted on the center ice message board, he received a very warm response from the 17,372 in attendance.
What Oates did was get an assist, his 980th, which gave him 1,300 points in his 17-year NHL career. It came on a goal by Sergei Gonchar, and Oates knew he had hit a milestone immediately old age (39) has its benefits and he doesn't miss much that goes on around him but he rushed to congratulate defenseman Gonchar.
In one of his better games of the season a goal and an assist and plus-3 defensively in nearly 22 minutes of ice time Oates was merely rising to the occasion. The Caps were playing front-running Carolina, and they had to get a win.
"You always watch when guys get a significant moment a home run or whatever it is," Oates said. "They always say it's not quite the same if you don't win, and it's true. It means something to you, but it gets defeated if the game is not a productive one. Tonight we had a good game."
It was 6-2 good, with Oates achieving his milestone, Bondra passing Mike Gartner for the Caps' all-time lead in goal-scoring with 398 (his second of the game gave him 399) and Jaromir Jagr earning two assists to give him 1,100 points in 12 seasons.
The two teams meet again at 1:38 p.m. today in Raleigh, N.C., with the Caps still trying to narrow a seven-point gap between them and the Southeast Division leaders.
Caps coach Ron Wilson called Oates' achievement "phenomenal," a word he doesn't often use to describe anything short of a brilliant Tiger Woods shot. The milestone has not come without hardship of sorts. Bondra scored all his goals for one team, but the Caps are Oates' fourth and may not be his last. He has said he wants to play again next season but is in the option year of his Washington contract, and the option isn't his.
Oates acknowledges that to do what he has done "means I've been playing a long time. Things like that, you have to look back and think how lucky you are to be able to play this long and stay this healthy and play with such great players. When you're a point producer, you obviously have to have a lot of help being an assist guy."
In that respect, he always has been the set-up guy, the second banana in more than one huge relationship (Brett Hull, Cam Neely) that has posted staggering statistics. He is a typical European center who thinks his job is to hand the puck to others and let them reap the glory. But he would like to get to what is a magic figure for him, 1,000 assists, which would be a truly "significant moment" for him.
But first, there is Round 2 against Carolina this afternoon.
Asked if the game is a "must-win" situation, Oates replied, "No, I'm not approaching them that way. There are more important games for us than [the Hurricanes] because they're ahead of us by seven points. But when you have about 60 games left, that's 120 points. When you put that in perspective, this really doesn't mean that much. But for right now, yeah, they're important."

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