Montreal Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban wants you to focus on his skill, not his explosive personality.
By Michael Grossi | Photos by Matt Vardy
Admit it -
you've heard the stories, yet you don't exactly know
what to make of him.
But you could easily make the argument that this past
season, Montreal Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban has made
more headlines than any of his teammates. Some of
those for the wrong reasons; his name has been
attached more than once to descriptors like "brash,"
"cocky," and "arrogant," just to name a few. For a
rookie on a team with its fair share of newsmakers,
that's quite the feat. At the same time, while talking
to P.K., I could hear the tiredness in his voice. He
seems tired of the questions about cockiness versus
confidence. He seems tired of those who want him to
change his playing style just because he ruffled a few
feathers. Most of all, he seems tired of the fact that
he isn't allowed to just go out and play the game.
For Subban, the newsmaking all started when
Philadelphia Flyers centre Mike Richards brought the
rookie defenceman into the spotlight after a spat,
complaining to the media: "Hopefully someone on their
team addresses it, because, uh, I'm not saying I'm
going to do it, but something might happen to him if
he continues to be that cocky." The incident happened
on November 16, 2010 and ever since, people have been
looking at Subban's game and trying to decipher
whether or not it needs to change.
Well, we can stop looking and deciphering,
because P.K. isn't changing. "I really don't
care what anyone says," the 21-year-old admits.
"There's a small group of people that I really
listen to and that's my teammates, my coaching
staff, people within my organization, my parents
and that's pretty much it."
For Subban, time to listen to his coaching staff
came when Canadiens bench boss
Jacques Martin scratched Subban for two games in
early December. Since then, Subban has played
successfully on the ice for the Habs, and has
hovered near the front of the pack for points by
a rookie defenceman. Like most young players,
Subban's scratching may have helped him regain
focus and ignore the distractions that come with
Reflecting back on the situation, Subban seems
to confirm the benefits of a chance to watch
from the press box for a couple of games.
"Sometimes in hockey, and in life, things happen
to you and you don't know why they happen to
you, but you don't have to know why, you just
have to deal with it. To be honest, it was great
for me. I know a lot of young players that are
given everything right away and a couple years
later you see that coming back to hurt them. I'm
happy that I've had to earn everything I've
gotten and deal through hardships. It's been
good for me."
P.K. needed to be able to block out the
distractions and get back to the game that he
was criticized for playing earlier in the year.
And so far, it seems to be working. Year in and
year out, you see the same story of a young
player getting sent up to watch a few games and
slow things down, whether on or off the ice.
While Subban's tribulations seemed to come from
the outside, his game is one thing that he's
always willing to defend.
"For me, it's a matter of just playing the game
and not worrying about anything else," he says.
"It's a simple hockey game: you go out there,
you compete, you work hard. Do players trash
talk? Of course players trash talk, everybody
It's well documented that there are no angels in
the NHL. So, what makes Subban's behaviour so
The defenseman has his own hypothesis: "I've
heard a lot of that this year, whether it's
swagger, or it's flash, or its cockiness, these
are things that I've never heard before in my
life. I don't know if it's because everything in
the NHL is magnified, but I've never been called
any of those terms before, except for maybe
this distinction that Subban reminds everyone exactly what makes a player
effective: To play without confidence is to play a style that will get you
eaten in a dog-eat-dog game. "Everyone's been called cocky, in the NHL, if
you play with confidence people are going to say that." He's got a point.
Some of the best players in the game today play with flash and charisma
and a confident edge, but playing outside fishbowl environments like
Montreal this has largely gone unnoticed.
For a league that craves personality, as well as more players worth
marketing, guys like Subban should technically be a godsend. In recent
years, the NHL has become a young-man's game. With stars like Sidney
Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos all under 25, the
League has been given the opportunity to market these stars as both fierce
competitors and personalities to match. P.K. Subban having fun with
teammates while playing the game he loves should be a part of this
opportunity. That may be tough, however, unless the story-starved media
that rules hockey-mad cities like Montreal lightens up and embraces the
changing face of the game.
hears the criticism that he and teammate Carey Price have come under for
showing emotion and openly having fun on the ice, and he's quick to defend
himself and his teammate. "We have fun, for sure. Earlier in the year
(Colorado Avalanche stars) Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny do their dance,
but I've never heard anyone say, 'They got swagger,' or, 'they're playing
with brashness or cockiness.' It just seems that everything I do or Carey
[does] in Montreal has been magnified. For guys like me and Carey, we just
go out there and have fun. We go out there and play the game."
Having fun and talking trash are not things that Subban plans on stopping
any time soon.
Considering his young age, the Toronto native's pre-NHL career has been
too successful and he's played too well to even think about change now. In
Junior, he won consecutive World Junior gold medals as part Team Canada's
backend, and played a vital role in the Canadiens' defence last
post-season. And if his past accomplishments aren't enough to reassure
Subban to keep playing his way, the support he receives from his teammates
should. Other than a brief issue with defenceman Hal Gill, teammates seem
uniformly supportive of their young rookie. Despite that run in with Gill,
both sides maintain that the relationship is "big brother-little brother"
and that the issue was blown way out of proportion.
In that incident, Subban's jersey was on the floor after practice and Gill
sternly called him, "a (bleeping) idiot." For the most part, everyone in
the room could tell that Gill was joking, even if he was trying to impart
a lesson to the youngster. For Subban the message was clear: take care of
things with the Canadiens logo on it and maintain respect for the
franchise. While it was a joke, Subban got the context. Unfortunately,
something that should have stayed in the room blew up in the media around
Montreal. Another Subban-centric item that made much ado about nothing.
Despite the hype, the question remains. Should P.K. Subban change the way
he plays hockey? Should he conform to the box into which other people want
him to fit? The bottom line for Subban is that whatever he's doing both
on and off the ice has proved more than effective. He effortlessly gets
under people's skin to the point that he's become a media sensation. In a
league that seems to battle through endless calls of dirty play, a kid
having fun and talking a little smack shouldn't get people up in arms.
"My whole life I've had people trying to tell me how to play the game.
Fact is, a lot of them were wrong, and I just left them behind," he says.
So now it's time for everyone to make the decision: either see Subban as a
young, hardworking player who's going to do things his way, or disagree
and prepare to be left behind.