PHT Time Machine: When Doug Jarvis became the NHL’s ironman

doug jarvis nhl ironman
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

We like to take an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to when Doug Jarvis set the NHL’s ironman record when he appeared in his 915th consecutive regular-season game. He ended up playing in 964 consecutive games. On Tuesday night, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle is set to break that record.

Doug Jarvis would have been an easy player to miss during his NHL career, especially given the era in which he played.

The late 1970s and 1980s were mostly defined by high scoring games, brawls, fights, and sometimes all three.

But over the course of Jarvis’ 13-year career he scored 20 goals exactly one time. He also never had more than 36 penalty minutes in a season, only three times topped even 30, and rarely found himself in a fight.

He was an anomaly for the era.

The one thing he did do, though, was go 12 consecutive seasons to begin his career without ever missing a game, setting the NHL record for consecutive games played at 964, a mark that stood for more than 35 years until Keith Yandle breaks it on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders.

[Related: Yandle not taking NHL life for granted as ironman record nears]

Prior to Jarvis, the consecutive games played record belonged to Garry Unger who had played in 914 consecutive games between 1968 and 1979. On December 26, 1986, as a member of the Hartford Whalers (and against the Montreal Canadiens, the team he broke into the NHL with) Jarvis set the new mark in his 915th game. It was a mark that, at the time, received relatively little fanfare, especially after spending most of his career on a Montreal team that set goal records and was winning Stanley Cups on a yearly basis.

What was so noteworthy about Jarvis’ mark at the time is that he accomplished it while literally never missing a game in the NHL. He made his debut as a 20-year-old rookie at the start of the 1975-76 season, and then played in every single regular season game between 1975 and the end of his streak early in the 1987-88 season. But while he was not known for goal scoring, or overly physical play, or fighting, he was still a key cog in the Canadiens’ 1970s dynasty as part of their shutdown line alongside Bob Gainey and Jim Roberts.

Ken Dryden wrote about that line in his book, “The Game” (Via this 1986 New York Times article):

”Playing one minute in every three, on a team that scored more than 380 goals, they scored 33, but playing the first shift of every game, often the last shift of a period and the last minute of every game when the score was close, playing the Clarke, Sittler, Perreault, Dionne, Esposito and Trottier lines, the league’s best lines, they allowed even fewer. It seemed inconceivable to us.”

Jarvis had two top-10 finishes in Selke Trophy voting during his time with the Canadiens, and then ultimately won the award in 1983-84 after he was traded to the Washington Capitals in a blockbuster deal alongside Rod Langway.

Close calls during the streak

You do not play more than a decade in the NHL without having some close calls when it comes to missing games, and while Jarvis did miss four Stanley Cup Final games in the 1970s due to injuries, those games fall under a different distinction than the regular season record.

In the aforementioned Times article Jarvis mentioned two games that almost ended his streak. An ankle issue almost kept him out of a game in the 1980s, but it was not the streak that pushed him to play — it was the chance to matchup against Wayne Gretzky that night, a challenge that Jarvis did not want to miss.

[Related: Remembering Andy Hebenton, hockey’s original ironman]

Another incident — in what was a sign of the times — came as a member of the Capitals when he spent the night in a hospital after taking a big hit and was allowed to play the next night. That almost certainly would not have happened in today’s game (which is a good thing).

The end of the streak

Jarvis’ streak came to an end early in the 1987-88 season when he was a member of the Hartford Whalers, and it was not an injury or anything else that forced him out of the lineup.

It was simply a coach’s decision.

Whalers coach Jack Evans said that Jarvis’ play had tailed off at the end of the 1986-87 season because he had overplayed him, and that it was agreed that Jarvis would not play in every game the following season, especially as the team wanted to play Brent Peterson in a more expanded role.

After appearing in the Whalers’ first two games that year Evans made the decision to sit Jarvis on October 11 against the Boston Bruins. It was the second half of a back-to-back, and the Whalers’ third game in four nights. Jarvis never played in another NHL game after that.

He was sent down to the American Hockey League shortly after where he appeared in 24 games with the Binghamton Whalers before retiring from pro hockey.

During his career he appeared in 964 regular season games (never missing a regular season game from the start of his career to the end), scored 139 goals, 403 total points, won four Stanley Cups, the Masterton Trophy (1986-87), and a Selke Trophy (1983-84).

Yandle is finally set to pass Jarvis’ record on Tuesday night.

Barring injury, Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel will also move ahead of Jarvis later this season if he is able to maintain his streak.

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