Defencemen have their own category.

With good reason.

"You can choose to not be physical as a forward," Keith Ballard, rearguard of the Vancouver Canucks, explains. "You can choose to not hit. And, for the most part, I think you can avoid a lot of hits. As a D-man? You don't really have a choice."

Then there are those slapshots.

All furiously funnelled toward the net - in other words, directly at you and all of your tender parts.

"Yeah, you have more opportunity to get shot with the puck," says Cory Sarich of the Calgary Flames. "(As a defenceman), it's a little tougher to maintain a streak."

Despite this potential for wreckage, Jay Bouwmeester, the elegant workhorse of the Flames, on Saturday tied the National Hockey League iron man record for defencemen - 495 consecutive games. Karlis Skrastins, while with the Colorado Avalanche, had shattered Tim Horton's mark in 2006-07.

Bouwmeester, however, remains miles away from hockey's standard - Doug Jarvis's 964 straight appearances. Then again, Jarvis was a centreman. (As for goalie Glenn Hall's 502 games in a row? Doesn't even seem real.) "I knew Jay had to be closing in on it," says Sarich, "but it's one of those things you don't ask about, you don't pry about, because who wants to throw a wrinkle into his plans?

"Congratulations to him."

Bouwmeester has not skipped an assignment since March 2004 when a broken foot forced him to the Florida Panthers' sidelines.

The 27-year-old can set the record Tuesday when the Phoenix Coyotes visit the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"Pretty cool accomplishment . . . 495 is a pretty good career for a lot of guys," says Mark Giordano. "Not only does he play a lot of games in a row, he plays a lot of minutes. He keeps himself in really good shape. I'm his roommate on the road, so I know how he takes care of himself. And when you have that ability to skate and get around the way he does, he can take himself out of danger.

"Hopefully, he goes for a long time. He's still a pretty young guy."

Bouwmeester and centre Henrik Sedin, of the Vancouver Canucks, are the only NHLers to have not missed a single outing since the 2004-05 lockout.