Hockey is often regarded as one of the most physically demanding sports. To see a professional athlete continually succeed well into their 40s is an achievement in itself.
The following is a small sample of the numerous and exceptional NHL players who continued to play for the league beyond the age of 39.
Who are some of your favorite players from the NHL who succeeded well into their 40s? Feel free to add them in the comment section below.
Six-time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Messier retired from the NHL at age 43. He is second in number of games played behind the legendary Gordie Howe by just 11 games.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, Messier is the second highest regular season point earner with 1,756 points (970 points behind leader Wayne Gretzky).
Messier played in 25 NHL seasons over four decades with various teams such as the Oilers, Rangers, and Canucks before retiring in 2005. Often a hero for his teams during the playoffs, Messier captained both the Oilers and the Rangers to championships.
Due to his leadership abilities on and off the ice, the NHL named the Mark Messier Leadership Award in his honor to reward a player who leads by example on the ice, motivates his teammates, and is dedicated to community activities and charitable causes.
Terry Sawchuk may be considered one of the all-time best men to ever play between the pipes. His 971 games played in the NHL saw him shut out opponents 103 times over the course of his illustrious career, a number that stood for almost 40 years before bested by Martin Brodeur in December 2009.
While Sawchuk was only 40 years of age when he died tragically, the chances that he would have continued to play as long as he was able is likely. His number (1) hangs high in Joe Louis Arena, marking his accomplishments as a multiple Stanley Cup winner (four), Vezina Trophy winner (four), Calder Trophy winner, and a posthumous Hall of Fame induction amongst many of his accolades.
Having retired at the age of 41, Steve Yzerman is one of many highly regarded Detroit Red Wings, and one of very few players to have played their entire career with one team.
Yzerman was the youngest captain of the Red Wings at the age of 21 and continued to lead the team until his retirement in 2006. Simply regarded as “The Captain” by fans, Yzerman’s achievements with the organization include numerous Stanley Cup Championships.
Yzerman lead the Wings to their first championship in 42 years in 1997 and repeated the glory again in 1998.
Within the organization, the center is first in assists, second in both points and goals scored, and third in games played. Yzerman continues to contribute to the franchise that he devoted his hockey career to, as he currently serves as the team's Vice President.
In addition to his achievements in a Wing’s sweater, he recently lead team Canada to gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Jacques Plante changed the position of goaltender and helped it to evolve to what it is today.
Known as the man who made the goalie mask a uniform staple, his desire to play and change the game made him an elite netminder well into his 40s despite knee issues.
Plante left a mark on the NHL when he first began wearing a facemask while in the net. His insistence on wearing a homemade mask after a brutal shot from Andy Bathgate left him with a broken nose and several stitches was the very beginning of the mask fans know today.
Plante's eagerness to play the puck was a new breed of hockey for goaltenders at the time, and his ability to stop pucks on his feet was remarkable.
When he retired from hockey at the age of 46, Plante, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner, would be considered one of the league's greatest goaltenders.
Already considered one of the greatest players of all time, his endurance and athleticism may never be matched. Gordie Howe's incredible 1,767 games played in the NHL comes from the fact that the incomparable right winger played until the astounding age of 52.
Howe's list of accolades includes, and is not limited to, numerous Stanley Cup Championships as well as Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies.
As a top scorer for over 20 seasons, Howe's achievements on the ice were remarkable. Ranking third on the list of all-time scoring with 801 goals and 1049 assists, Howe will forever be listed amongst the best of the NHL. Fans today still reference the legend when referring to the Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist, and a fight).
One of Howe's greatest achievements on the ice came at the age of 40 when he posted his only 100+ point season with 44 goals and 59 assists. While Howe struggled with an ailing wrist, he continue on for over 25 seasons in the NHL. His final season in the league saw him play 80 games for the Hartford Whalers before he retired in 1980.
As for those who possessed the talent and the physical attributes to play well into their 40s, Howe is at the top. He's in a category all his own when you talk about legends who played into their 50s, as he is the only one to do so.