October 28, 2010 :: 1:12pm ET
And Out Come the Wolves
LOS ANGELES, CA -- I tend to categorize
all hockey players by A) talent, B) hard work, and/or C) character.
These types overlap each other in most cases, and one usually
possesses a characteristic that is more dominant than the others.
Sidney Crosby, for example, is mostly talent-oriented, but also known
as a great example of the hard work it takes to wear the C for the
team. Ryan Smyth is an impossibly hard working player, universally
appreciated for his fantastic leadership and being an all around
stand-up guy. Some, like Joe Thornton (and previously Jeremy Roenick)
are at a pretty even keel on all three aspects.
As a relatively open-minded hockey fan, I can get behind all
variations on those three basic traits, but nothing fascinates me more
than the players who get by mostly on sheer wit; the real character
guys, the heart and soul of hockey.
In a modern game where skill is touted,
pure talent is rewarded readily, and violence is the elephant in the
room, these players are a dying breed. They often, typically fall into
one or more of the following categories: tough guys, agitators,
enforcers, characters, fan favorites*, goons, gongshows, plugs, hacks,
dickheads (I'm personally not into labels).
*The old cliché of "you hate him because he's not on your team"
comes to mind. He's the under-quoted guy in the room with the best
quotes, often invisible on the score sheet but omnipresent in the
penalty box and in your psyche. These genre-benders aren't the ideal
role models (if you can read lips, it's all you really need to know),
and even the league makes them sit in the back of the class (been
there), often in the form of that proverbial scarlet letter called the
healthy scratch. They are the punk-ass middle-children of hockey.
this is all coming not-so-hot off the heels of a Darcy Tucker
retirement announcement and more recently, the Rick Rypien incident; a
symbolic closing of one door and opening of another. One that broke my
heart and one that delighted me beyond belief; and showed me a glimmer
hope for the future of my favorite type of player. Give me a player
with a story, I say. As JD Salinger said "Give me an honest crook any
Rypien is a talented hockey player, he had an ideal junior hockey run,
his numbers were impressive. But this, at one time or another, could
be said about almost all the players in the NHL.
I feel that there is a point in every hockey player's career where
they think "Okay, every player here is a good hockey player, I'm no
better or worse, what do I do to put myself ahead?"
This is where the strong are separated
from the weak, and the very few creative ones are separated from the
rest of them. This is where the guys like Tucker, Rypien, Theo Fleury,
Tie Domi, Marty McSorely, Georges Laraque, Dan Carcillo, Chris Neil,
Derek Boogaard, and Sean Avery (the list goes on and on and on) take
off. Where wit, controversy, pure heart, big balls, readiness to
do-whatever-it-takes, and toeing of that fine line between fearless
and totally nuts is the pilot light that sets the fire for the few
that can take the heat.
When you don't, and aren't expected to
behave, you are given the freedom to thrive. Character thrives. If you
walk boldly, it doesn't matter how big your damn stick is.
Rypien is not a lunatic, and he isn't a criminal. He's a ballsy,
restless, hockey player eager to create momentum in his career; in the
game. Rypien's actions alone don't make him an unintelligent hockey
player, on the contrary perhaps.
went and dropped some knowledge on all of us. We all know who he is,
and what he's capable of now. He turned heads in the best way he could
(the best way a clever 4th liner can). He reacted in a painfully human
manner; he took his licks, and will reap the benefits that come along
with being infamous. He made the game, dare I say, that much more
It's not to say that there aren't legitimate criminals out there on
the ice, but violent incidents are most often isolated and truly are
out of context of the game itself, and instead on that individual's
shoulders. As long as I'm alive, I will never say there is anything
wrong with a little ingenuity.
Paul Bissonette is a creative hockey player, though not in the
playmaking aspect. Bissonette brings an authenticity and a healthy
dose of heart to the game in his own way, and hardly in the physical
form. You hate to admit it (the way you hate admitting to DVR-ing Real
Housewives of Wherever), but Paul Bissonette is changing the game;
really, how can you argue that he isn't changing the game when Bob
Miller is using the phrase "Biz Nasty" on the air?
In particular, I remember Bissonette once saying in an interview that
he hadn't heard from his agent since the last time he was shut down
for his whimsical Biz Nasty musings on Twitter, and that he never
heard from him unless he was being moved or scolded.
That unashamed honesty about the realistic relationship between player
and agent alone made me an instant subscriber to Biz Nasty World,
these are the little things that reveal the real world of the NHL, the
things that all fans can relate to, and in turn appreciate. They
humanize the game. Players like Bissonette have multiple tricks up
their sleeve (whether he is aware of it or not) to get under your
skin. You could say there is more than one way to skin a Coyote.
Old school hockey minds don't always appreciate how these guys change
the game, and the mockery they seem to make of this fine gentleman's
sport. On the other end, puckheads of the modern persuasion are quick
to write off their old school vibe as novelty.
It's a thankless job, really.
As if these players aren't putting in the same effort, if not more, as
their polite/naturally talented/low-key peers; certainly more boldness
is expected from a wolf than from gazelle. But these reactionary
players exist outside of the game of hockey as well, and potentially
They are showmen, they know how to "win the crowd" (like in
Gladiator). In that aspect they do exactly the job they are put on the
ice to do, which at the end of the day is to sell the game, and earn
their paycheck. Paradoxically they often do that job better than the
most fiscally valuable players.
Darcy Tucker attacking guys on the opposing bench wasn't immediately
necessary to the game of hockey. Maybe Sean Avery overtly distracting
Martin Brodeur in front of the net wasn't necessary. Rypien shoving a
linesman and grabbing a fan was probably not necessary. But it was
memorable, and it set things in motion enough to change the game, even
in the smallest sense (Avery's actions even enacted a change to the
I like to think of these players as a "gateway drug" for hockey fans.
Derek Boogaard discussing his fight camp on Fox News, or Avery
discussing his sloppy seconds can (and does) turn an unfamiliar eye to
the game of hockey; and in turn the enigmatic star-power of Alex
Ovechkin and the unbelievable offensive prowess of a sniper like
Steven Stamkos can keep them hooked for life. Fans are not born, they
The persona is mostly a full time job. As Boogaard knows, you can't be
scary just some of the time. The strongest kind of character cannot be
broken. He did not earn that $6.5 mil/4-year for being intimidating
only part of the time. I find myself defending this rather taboo
signing, because of the doors it potentially opens for the "lifestyle"
or "situational" type players that don't normally receive a generous
slice of the salary cap pie. I rarely touch on the cap, but I never
believed that salary should be directly proportionate to ice time, or
offensive production, but instead what the guy truly brings to the
The NY Rangers know that Boogaard's massive frame, and Stretch
Armstrong reach are worth just as much as his maniacal fight-smirk
that, alone, speaks volumes on the team's toughness, something that
the Rangers franchise has always valued. Derek Boogaard forged his own
path in the game, shook it up and made us look at things differently,
an incredible feat for a 7th rounder who is almost non-existent on the
score sheet and the ice.
Too many first- and second-round Draft picks fall into obscurity, they
drown in a sea of anonymous, hungry, no-less talented players, but
guys like Derek Boogaard are survivors. They rise above because their
self-worth is not solely concentrated on their hockey skills.
Sometimes the "larger than life personality" pays off ultimately;
former "a-hole" PJ Stock parlayed his into a broadcasting career (and
less notably, a reality television career), Theo Fleury's life, which
plays out like a David Fincher film (that would be dimly-lit, raw,
punchy, and cerebral, whilst sentimental), is immortalized into an
autobiography (and reality TV, which if you ask me is maybe a step
back in the journey of life, but hey it isn't my journey). Sean Avery
will always exist in his own genre and may inspire a few more rule
changes before he's through, and Paul Bissonette's character is just
too big to be contained by an ice rink alone.
What inspires me most about the game of hockey is what cannot be
bought and sold; what cannot be taught or learned. It's the innate and
visceral spirit engrained into the soul of the most transcendent
hockey players. True character makes the hockey world go 'round.
The most important lesson in life I can think of is to always keep
your wits about you. I can't think of a better lesson in hockey as
well. Because when all is said and done, skates are hung up, jersey is
framed on the wall, the body softens, and you start looking into night
time adult rec leagues, what else have you got? Keep the faith.
Darcy Tucker, my friend, you will be just fine.
is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com. Her features appear regularly