For 21 years, Dwayne Newman had the honor of being the Iron Man of the Western Hockey League.
He played 311 consecutive games from Feb. 2, 1988, through March 17, 1992, for the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Victoria Cougars.
Tuesday night, Tri-City Americans captain Justin Feser equaled Newman’s mark. Tonight, Feser takes over the WHL’s Iron Man title when he steps on the ice for game No. 312 against the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds at Toyota Center.
“I had a feeling it would fall sometime,” said Newman in a telephone interview from Great Britain. “There was a guy a while ago chasing me, but he ran out of games. My dad told me there was someone close this year and I started taking an interest. I hoped he would get there.”
Feser, in his fifth year with the Americans, began his streak on Jan. 7, 2009.
“I will treat it like any other day,” said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound forward, “but it is still pretty exciting. I don’t know how to describe it. The organization has given me every chance to prove myself. From the time I was 16, they have believed in me and I’ve made the most of it. All the guys I have played with from 16 to 20, I can’t thank them enough. Now that I’m at the end of my career, I’m trying to do the same for the younger guys.”
Of all the league records, Rick Doerksen, the WHL’s vice president of hockey, said the Iron Man is the most impressive.
“To be honest, it is very special,” he said. “A record of that nature, a record I thought would never be broken, and he still has games to play. It’s an impressive mark. I’m not sure this one will be broken.”
To reach a mark of this magnitude, players must avoid serious injuries, illnesses, suspensions and missing out on representing their country in national tournaments. There are 72 games in a season, and missing one turns back the clock.
“This is a special accomplishment,” said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory. “This is very rare. You need to be a special player to play through the injuries, through the pain and get the opportunity to play at 16. He is humble and proud of it, but he has gone without the recognition. He has done this at a pace of a point a game. Hopefully, he will get an opportunity like Adam (Hughesman) and Brendan (Shinnimin) and continue his career.”
Feser goes into tonight’s game with 150 goals, 340 points in 341 career games. This season, he leads the Americans with 39 goals and 54 assists (93 points).
“We have been blessed with a lot of players with good character and work ethic,” Tory said. “Living and playing each game for what it is and not looking back or too far ahead. He brings that to every game.”
A defenseman, Newman said such streaks are hard to achieve and that you have to strike a balance in your game.
“When you are in the middle of these streaks, all you think about is putting your skates on for the next game,” Newman said. “You go out and be there for the boys the next 60 minutes. I’m sure somewhere through time, guys who were 20 were there for him, and now he will be there for the boys. The cardinal sin is letting down your team. You are there to take the load off the rest of the guys. That carries you through your career.”
Feser, a ninth-round bantam draft pick of the Americans in 2007 from Red Deer, Alberta, made an impression as a 16 -year-old and has been skating a regular shift since.
“His first training camp, we were in Rink B,” Tory said. “Each and every scrimmage he was go, go, go. We had no choice but to keep him. If he can get to the rink, he will play.”
While Feser now holds the reins to the team, as a young player he relied on the guidance of his older teammates.
“My first couple of years, (Kruise) Reddick was a big influence on me, what I wanted to be like,” Feser said. “He helped me when I was struggling at times. He was a role model and I need to thank him for some of the things I have been able to do in the league.”
Newman, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, now lives in Peterborough, in the county of Cambridgeshire, 75 miles north of London.He’s still playing hockey, but also works for DHL, a shipping company.
“I’m 41 and I’m still playing,” said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Newman, who laces up his skates for the Milton Thunder. “I go to the rink, but we aren’t paid like rock stars. We all have to have our day jobs.”
Though Newman has played overseas since 1996, he still has fond memories of his WHL days.
“I still have ties in Brandon and good friends in Victoria,” Newman said. “It was one of the most special times of my life. Those years in junior are special. The most you can have is five years — five years to have a chance for the Memorial Cup. To have a chance at something like that is special.”
If Feser plays out the rest of the season, his streak will end at 321 games on March 17 — exactly 21 years from when Newman finished his streak.
“My congrats to him,” Newman said. “I know what it takes personally to go through the course of a long season. It’s a tremendous achievement and I have tremendous respect for him. He will be destined for great things.”