- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

It doesn't seem like a lot these days, 500 games in the NHL, but the numbers start to hold a lot more meaning if you consider the sweat Washington Capitals defenseman Rob Zettler used up to get to that total.

On Wednesday night in Denver the veteran utilityman from Iles, Quebec, skated in his 500th game, a milestone many players with better wheels or harder shots surpass on the way to bigger things. But Zettler was happy to reach the milestone, a mountain he looked up at in 1988 when he was a rookie with the then-Minnesota North Stars.

"It's been a long climb," he said.

Zettler, 32, has spent 13 seasons getting there with six teams; it normally takes a tad more than six years to reach the plateau.

"I think I was just over 400 when I was with Toronto (1997-98), and it took nearly another three seasons to get to 500," he said. "I'm real proud of it, even though I don't talk about it too much. I think someone in my situation I don't know if 'limited talent' is the right phrase I'm looking for I mean, to be able to get to 500 games has been a goal of mine for a long time and I finally did it."

Zettler is a textbook example of a stay-at-home defenseman who believes the blue line is made of barbed wire and not to be crossed. He has four career goals and remembers the minute details surrounding each.

"I was the leading defenseman scorer for the Maple Leafs one year," he said, quickly conceding that a few strange twists made that possible. "It was 1996-97, Larry Murphy had been traded to Detroit at the deadline and Mathieu Schneider was hurt. That left me, [with] two goals and 14 points, the leading scorer when the season ended.

"Four goals in 500 games, that's not a lot but I think I found a niche for myself in the league and on this team, and as long as I can keep playing, I'm not going to worry about goals. There's a couple of us on this team Joe Reekie [two goals], Brendan Witt [one], myself [zero] it's a plus if we get one, but keeping them out of the net is what we get paid to do."

Zettler has played nine games for the Caps this season, the only defenseman called up from the minors who has seen any action.

"Perseverance is a good word to use in describing Robbie," coach Ron Wilson said. "We wanted him to work with our younger players in Portland but still be available as our seventh defenseman, the guy we call up when we need somebody. He still prides himself on being in great shape, being ready to play at a moment's notice.

"We've got a lot of respect for him and his leadership abilities. And 500 games that's a lot to play in this league. He should be proud of what he's accomplished."

Notes The Caps expect right wing Ulf Dahlen, out with the flu, to be well enough to play tonight's road game at Anaheim, so wing Derek Bekar was returned to the Portland (Maine) Pirates. Bekar was called up for one game but didn't get to play… .

The Caps signed 6-foot-7, 210-pound Kyle Clark to a three-year contract and assigned him to Richmond in the East Coast Hockey League. Clark was a junior at Harvard but was spending most of his time on the bench. He had only seven points with the Crimson in 60 games over three seasons but had 14 goals and 25 points in 65 games with the Team USA Under-18 touring squad during the 1997-98 season. He also racked up 287 penalty minutes, which might have caught a few scouts' eyes. The Caps used a seventh-round pick to grab him in 1999. He is a native of Burlington, Vt.

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