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Coaches claim milestones don't mean much, but 1,000 games is special

Mike Babcock and Dave Tippett act like 1,000 career games doesn't mean much, but they know just what it means. USA TODAY Sports

Ask any NHL coach and he'll tell you he doesn't pay attention to it.

The question: What does (insert significant career milestone here) mean to you?

Most coaches, at least the most successful ones, will say they can't be bothered with cataloging personal achievements. Their job is to win, and win often. If they're fortunate enough, maybe they will even have their name etched on the Stanley Cup.

Besides team success, though, there is one rare milestone coaches do appreciate: 1,000 games behind the bench.

On Tuesday, Dave Tippett of the Arizona Coyotes became the 24th coach to reach that benchmark. On Thursday, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock became the 25th.

In today's sports landscape, that's an impressive milestone for any coach.

"Game No. 1, I was really nervous. Game No. 1,000, I don't think I'll be that nervous," Tippett told reporters with a laugh before Tuesday's game. "I've been real fortunate to be around for a long time, and I still enjoy doing it. When you get on the bench, it's the closest thing as you can be to being a player and you're involved in the game. That part is still a lot of fun for me."

Nine active coaches have coached 1,000 games: Joel Quenneville (1,428), Lindy Ruff (1,379), Ken Hitchcock (1,374), Barry Trotz (1,325), Paul Maurice (1,250), Darryl Sutter (1,170), Alain Vigneault (1,019), Tippett (1,000) and now Babcock.

The common thread is that all have won at a high level. And some have their names on the Stanley Cup. Most also either started coaching in junior hockey or the AHL, so they have an understanding of what it takes to reach the NHL, not only as a coach but also as a player.

The best coaches have the ability to coach, teach and evolve with the game and its players.

"If you don't evolve with it, you're going to be behind," Tippett said.

Tippett, 54, has spent 6½ seasons behind the Coyotes bench. Before that, he spent six seasons as head coach of the Dallas Stars.

Babcock, 52, is in his first season as coach of the Maple Leafs. His résumé speaks for itself, and it includes 10 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and a Stanley Cup in 2008. Before joining the Red Wings, he spent two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks (2002-04) and led the team to its first Cup finals appearance.

Babcock also is the only coach to win a World Championship, Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup. Now that he's reached 1,000 games in the NHL, he pretends not to care.

"I haven't even thought about it, to tell you the truth," Babcock said. "It means you've obviously been in the league a long time and you must've had some success, because you don't get to stay in the league, no different than a player. I feel real honored to coach in the National Hockey League. There are only 30 of those jobs, and I believe it's the best league in the world. Obviously, you've been able to keep your job long enough to get there."

Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien also has the potential to reach the 1,000-game plateau. He has coached 909 games between his time in Montreal, New Jersey and Boston.

"When you get to 1,000, that's quite an accomplishment. There are a lot of guys that are getting close to it now and some that already have, and it's great," Julien said.

"In the brotherhood of the coaches, it's great to see. It shows some stability. And for the longest time, it didn't seem to be that much, and at times it seems like you're here and gone before you know it. Anytime somebody manages to put 1,000 games together, it's really impressive."

After Babcock left the Red Wings and signed with the Maple Leafs last summer, Julien became the longest-tenured coach in the league. This is his ninth season behind Boston's bench.

"It means a lot," Julien said. "Stability is hard to keep in this profession, and sometimes [management] makes changes for other reasons than the coach's fault. You understand when you take a job there's always that possibility, and it's hard to think about stability as a coach; you're always prepared for the other side of it.

"For me, it's been great. Not only is it great for me, it means there's stability in the organization, but also for your family. You have a wife and a lot of us have kids, and what it does for them to move around often is not an easy thing, so it's good to have some stability. I feel fortunate because I've gone through some changes in the organization and I could have easily been one of the guys to go.

"When another group comes in and still trusts you guide this team, it's certainly refreshing for me to know there's still some trust and some satisfaction for what I've done here so far."

Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman is the all-time leader with 2,141 games coached in the NHL. The late Al Arbour is second with 1,607.

"It's a great honor to have that many," Bowman said of the coveted 1,000-game plateau. "You're talking 82 games a year and it's greater than 10 years on the job, which is a long time."