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A grand for the Goose: Wild honor former Gopher Alex Goligoski on his 1,000 games milestone

From northern Minnesota to the U of M to 15-plus seasons in the NHL, Alex Goligoski has remained the same smart, hard-skating and friendly person that fans have known for years. He received accolades far and wide playing in his 1,000th NHL regular season game.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Calgary Flames
Minnesota Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski (47) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames on Feb. 26, 2022, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

ST. PAUL – Exactly 500 NHL games ago, Minnesota Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski stood in awe of anyone able to double that number of pro hockey games played.

“When I got to 500 I remember saying, ‘I can’t believe people play 1,000, that’s crazy.’ But here we are,” he said with a shy smile after the Wild’s morning skate on Thursday, before he played in his 1,000th NHL regular season game that evening versus the Vancouver Canucks.

For the former Gopher who learned the game in the Northland, first coming to the Twin Cities from Grand Rapids in 2004, it is another highlight in a 15-plus season NHL career that included a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And it is a milestone that some of the folks that have known Goligoski for decades saw coming.

“I knew the kid was special when we were squirts,” said Gophers assistant coach Ben Gordon, who faced off against Goligoski in youth hockey and was his teammate at the U of M. “If you’d told me 20 years ago that he was going to play 1,000 games in the NHL, I would not have batted an eye.”

Gordon was among roughly two dozen friends and family in a suite at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday to watch the milestone game. Goligoski’s agent, former Gopher Ben Hankinson, picked up the tab to have so many close to the player nicknamed “Goose” on hand.


“My agent bought a suite for me. I’ll give him a plug,” Goligoski said, with a grin. “I’ve paid him enough money over the years.”

The Wild won 4-3 in overtime on Thursday, thanks to Kirill Kaprizov's goal during a delayed penalty.

Goligoski turned 37 in July and had come up with the Penguins after three seasons as a Gopher. It was obvious right from the start that he would be an impact defenseman in college, joining the U of M program not long after future NHL standouts like Jordan Leopold, Keith Ballard and Paul Martin headed out.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) celebrate the win Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 against the Vancouver Canucks at Xcel Energy Center. Matt Krohn / USA TODAY Sports
Matt Krohn / USA TODAY Sports

“He played a few games in the USHL and came in here as a freshman. That’s when we were losing the big honchos … Immediately he made an impact. It wasn’t going to take him any time at all,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, who was an assistant on Don Lucia’s staff during Goligoski’s first season in maroon and gold. “Don used to say ‘the great ones are great the moment they step on campus.’ Right when he stepped on campus, he had that ‘it’ factor. The game just came so easy to him, and it still does. It’s fun to watch him play.”

Drafted by the Penguins in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft, he spent parts of four seasons there, then was traded to Dallas. After his time in Texas, Goligoski spent five years with the Arizona Coyotes before coming back to his home state in 2021.

“He’s an awesome teammate on and off the ice. He’s a great leader and a great human being, and obviously to play 1,000 games here at home with his family around is awesome too,” said Wild captain Jared Spurgeon. “He doesn’t shy away from the physical aspect of the game and you can see by the way he skates and the way he thinks why he’s such a great player.”

A prep state champion as a sophomore, Begley spent parts of the last two seasons in the NAHL, most recently with the Wisconsin Windigo where he was the team's top-scoring defenseman.
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Goligoski said one key to his longevity has been the fact that he’s never gotten comfortable or complacent, saying that he came to the NHL just trying to stay there, and has never wavered from that attitude. Others say that the things he does with his blades and his brain are the key to getting 1,000 regular season games on your NHL resume.

“He can skate and he’s smart. That’s what it boils down to,” Gordon said. “He’s got good feet, he makes good reads, he plays smart and simple and that’s allowed him to play for a long time. He stays out of harm’s way, he makes the right play, and he doesn’t get himself in tough situations. He’s been able to play a long time because of the way he plays.”


During a timeout in the first period of Thursday’s victory, Goligoski was honored with a video tribute and a standing ovation from Wild fans. For a kid who learned the game on the cold rinks of the 218, played college hockey for the Gophers and returned to Minnesota in the twilight of his NHL career, the applause likely sounded like home.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Washington Capitals
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski (right) was all smiles, giving goalie Antti Raanta an on-ice hug after a win over the Washington Capitals. Goligoski, a former Minnesota Gopher, spent five seasons in Arizona. Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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