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Marchant displays staying power during career

Todd Marchant usually comes with the same bit when he starts teasing assistant coach Mike Foligno about his age. It's about how Marchant was just a little squirt growing up in Williamsville who listened to games on the radio when Foligno leaped into his career with the Sabres in 1981-82.

Yeah, yeah, blah, blah.

Marchant has little room to talk. He's 37 and skated into the weekend with 1,150 regular-season games over 17 seasons on his NHL resume. His career is older than the Internet. It's old enough to have a driver's license. Heck, he has T-shirts older than NHL veterans who attended his hockey school, which is older than his four children.

"I'm old news," he said last week by telephone.

It's all in good fun, of course. Marchant and Foligno both know wisecracks about a man's longevity really are intended as heavy praise.

"He laughs, and then sure enough it will come back to me," Marchant said. "One of our young players will come up to me and say, 'You know, when I was a little kid in Edmonton, I used to watch you play.' "

What goes around comes around, indeed.

The only shame in Marchant's career is that he hasn't come around often enough for Western New York to truly appreciate him. He played his first game with the New York Rangers in 1993-94 but spent the rest of his career in the Western Conference with Edmonton, Columbus and Anaheim.

Marchant, in his sixth year with the Ducks, returns Tuesday to HSBC Arena for what could be his final NHL game in Buffalo. He still lives in Williamsville during the offseason and is renting his home to Sabres center Rob Niedermayer, his former teammate in Anaheim.

"Any time you get a chance to come back to your hometown and play, it's very special," Marchant said. "And this may very well be my last time playing in Buffalo. It's special, and you have to enjoy it."

Marchant, 37, hasn't ruled out playing another season, but he's well aware that NHL teams are more inclined to sign younger players who can fill his role for less money. His contract expires after the season.

Kids, listen up. Marchant didn't need gaudy statistics to have a terrific career. He's been an effective checking-line forward and penalty killer for 17 seasons. His 185 goals and 494 points going into the weekend, including a career-high 20 goals and 60 points in 2002-03, hardly reflect his competitiveness, leadership and class.

"I've been very fortunate," he said. "I never had any expectations. I had dreams. When I got the opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. I take nothing for granted. It doesn't matter if it's a practice day, an off day or whatever. You work as hard as you can because you never know if that day is going to be your last."

Marchant's career has taken more turns than Foligno's nose. He worried his playing days were over in 2005-06 after he was waived by the Blue Jackets despite having four years remaining on a six-year contract. The Ducks claimed him, and he won a Stanley Cup with them in 2007. He signed a two-year deal before last season.

For the 5-foot-10, 180-pound former seventh-round pick to still be playing, given the speed and size of players today in an ever-changing game, is remarkable. He has played more NHL games than any Western New York native in history.

"Not only has the game changed but the way you take care of yourself away from the rink," he said. "When I broke in we did very little off-ice training in the summertime, much less training during the season. We had a closet with a couple of bikes, some dumbbells and that was it. The weight rooms now are bigger than the locker rooms."

Yes, he's come a long way from youth hockey in Amherst and Williamsville East High. He joined the old Niagara Scenics as a 16-year-old and earned Division I scholarship to Clarkson. He played in the World Junior Championships before they were popular and the Olympics before they allowed professionals.

And he paved the way with West Seneca native Aaron Miller and Clarence-raised Kevyn Adams, who played in 1,217 games combined, for other area players. All three were smart, hard-working competitors who showed the likes of Patrick Kane, Tim Kennedy and Patrick Kaleta that playing in the NHL was possible.

Seventeen years later, he's still there.

"People ask me, "When did you know?" Marchant said. "I don't think you ever know. My philosophy now is that I'm taking it one year at a time. Back then it was one day at a time. We'll see where this path takes us. It's a good lesson for everybody. Life comes at you pretty quick, and it can change in a hurry."

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>A good switch

Dustin Byfuglien, a Norris Trophy candidate? The Thrashers defenseman isn't quite there yet, but he's entering the discussion given how well he has played after moving back to the blue line.

Big Buff (6-5, 265) needed just 31 games to break the franchise record in Atlanta's brief history for goals by a defenseman with 11. Byfuglien led all NHL defensemen with 33 points in 33 games and was tied for the league lead among all skaters with five winners.

Atlanta was 10-2-2 during a 14-game stretch going into the weekend in which Byfuglien had six goals, 17 points and a plus-8 rating. He's leading Les Thrash in scoring and is almost certain to play in the NHL All-Star Game.

The keys have been getting pucks to the net and being aggressive in the offensive zone. Byfuglien has a hard, accurate shot that he tries to keep below knee level. Coach Craig Ramsay wants his defensemen active and involved. Byfuglien led D-men with 129 shots on goal and was fifth overall.

He played forward with the Blackhawks last season and received consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring 11 goals in 22 postseason games en route to the Stanley Cup. He wasn't out of position in Chicago, by the way. It showed just how deep the 'Hawks were along the blue line.

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>Extended rivalry

Canucks forward Ryan Kesler earned bragging rights over ex-Ohio State teammate and NHL rival R.J. Umberger after recording his first career NHL hat trick in Vancouver's overtime win over Columbus.

Kesler was a cocky freshman and Umberger a respected senior when they shared the same dressing room in college, but they were far from friends. Kesler's hat trick was more special because his line was matched up against Umberger, who has become a hero in Columbus while playing for the Blue Jackets.

"R. J. is a pretty good player," Kesler said. "We have a little rivalry going and it was probably more of one when I was running my mouth a little bit. When you have a personal interest and have played with him, you get up for games like that. For them to match him against us, I wanted to be up for that challenge. He's a good guy and the type of guy you hate playing against, but there won't be Christmas cards exchanged."

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>Sticking to it

Ducks winger Bobby Ryan scored one of the strangest goals in NHL history last week and had the last laugh after the righty sniper snapped home a one-timer with Wild forward Miikko Koivu's lefty stick.

Koivu started the play when he lost his stick and snatched one from an unsuspecting Ryan during a flyby in the Minnesota zone. Ryan skated without a stick before finding Koivu's lying in the left circle. Moments later, he found the net with a right-handed shot using the winger's left-handed curve.

"Finders keepers, I guess," Ryan said afterward.

Wild coach Todd Richards argued, ironically, the goal should have been disallowed because Ryan scored with an illegal stick. Officials didn't realize what happened amid the confusion, and the goal stood. Koivu was left with little more than, well, another man's stick in his hand.

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>Quotable

Flames forward Olli Jokinen, after being asked by TSN reporter Jermain Franklin whether the fear of being a healthy scratch motivated him: "No, but I heard they're going to put you on TSN 2."

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>Around the boards

* Canucks forward Alex Burrows on Oilers rookie Taylor Hall, the first pick overall in June, who had 19 points going into the weekend: "He's a sick player, tremendous speed. I'm going to enjoy watching him the next couple of years."

* Vancouver will be wedged under the salary cap when Sami Salo returns in a few weeks, and defenseman Kevin Bieksa remains the best candidate to be sent packing. He has laughed off trade rumors, but there's no ignoring his status as an unrestricted free agent after this season.

* Avalanche rookie Kevin Shattenkirk had 17 points in his first 20 games after being promoted from the AHL. The real surprise was him getting called up in the first place after putting up zero points in 10 games with Lake Erie. Apparently, doors really do open for former first-round picks that would otherwise be closed.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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