Tuesday, July 13, 2004


A Character Study

Let�s face facts, people! Despite the globalization of hockey and the fact that the NHL has a diverse group of players from various countries, hockey players are more �vanilla� than ever before.

When people talk about �character� players, they typically refer to �heart-and-soul� guys like Dave Lowry or Mike Ricci. Ask a hockey fan to define a �character� player, and you�ll likely hear words such as gritty, hard-working, industrious, physical, defensively responsible, leader, and so on.

Is that really �character�? I�ve always associated character with personality, and the true character players in the NHL seem to be few and far between.

Aside from a few brash and outgoing Americans (Roenick, Hull, Conroy), and a couple of nutty freakshows (Mike Danton, Dominik Hasek), hockey players, for the most part, seem like the most freakin� boring people alive.

Long gone are the days when players partied hard and whose idea of summer training was a round of golf followed by a round of beers. Players used to have fairly good relationships with reporters, often on a more personal level. Reading some stories and articles from yesteryear, you really got to know the players more on a personal level, and you often got their true opinions on the subject at hand.

Today, we get the same recycled clich� quotes with the same monotonic enthusiasm of a Vulcan. Players are afraid of saying the �wrong� thing, so will always play it safe and give the same boring answers to the same boring questions.
Hockey players seem to be more interested in investing in mutual funds, fishing, and playing bridge, at least from their image they try to project.

Oh, sure, many players still like their beer and babes, but it�s just not something that is out in the open all that much.

The Real Characters

Until the late 90�s, the NHL had a lot of strange characters and players with some �loud� personalities. If we were to stereotype players into certain groups, we would get some of the following.

The �Goon� - Gary Bettman�s personal achievement to date has been the near extinction of the Goon in NHL hockey, and it�s too bad.

While the Goon may not have the most value to a team, they had a lot of value to the fans and could be counted on for entertainment.

Typical Goon: Wild hockey hair, a love of the brew, explosive personality on the ice, but outgoing and personable off of the ice. Goons like Gino Odjick were often the more popular players to the hometown fans. They didn�t have great hockey skills, so they knew the only way they would stay in the NHL was to drop the gloves early and often.
Back when hockey fights weren�t wrestling matches, these Goons would actually throw punches. Watch any fight from the 1980�s, and it�s a battle of the free-swinging haymakers. Today, very few true goons exist. Those who do exist tend to exhibit the lack of personality found in most players, although they still have more personality than most of their team-mates. These players are also expected to have some skill, and take a regular shift.

Old Style Goons: Gino Odjick, Joey Kocur, Tiger Williams, Brantt Myhres
New Style Goons: Donald Brashear, Scott Parker
Holdovers: Rob Ray, Rocky Thompson

The Hard-Partying �Star� - Oh, there are stars in today�s NHL, but they are just so dull in terms of personality. Here in Vancouver, we have two of the biggest dullards in Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund. It takes a Herculean effort on their part to even crack a smile. Chuck Norris would be proud. More and more, NHL players seem to shun the spotlight, not allowing much of a glimpse about their true selves.

Not too long ago, the stars of the NHL loved the status and fame that came with their profession.

If you ever want to read a candid and entertaining look at hockey in the 70s, Phil Esposito�s book, Thunder and Lighting: A No B.S. Hockey Memoir is a great look at how hockey players used to play hard, and party harder.

He saw it all: the booze, the drugs, the women, the wheeling and dealing, the good times and the camaraderie, the bad times and the back-stabbing. In telling what it was really like, Esposito takes readers into the boardrooms, back rooms � and even the bedrooms � of the men who make their lives in the NHL.

The Rangers of the 1970s were the definite party boys of the NHL, and they loved to the New York social scene. Players such as Ron Greschner (Carol Alt) and Ron �Donkey Dong� DuGuay (Cher) were often seen dating supermodels and living it up at any number of New York parties. While players these days drink Gatorade and protein shakes after a game, the Rangers openly drank beer to rejuvenate themselves after another battle with the Broad Street Bullies.

Now, apart from some freaky shots of Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour getting sloshed with some friends, how often do you hear about a player sleeping around or getting drunk?

The Skilled Pest - Thankfully, this breed of rodent still exists in today�s NHL, albeit in a less prevalent aspect.

Ken �The Rat� Linsemen, Bobby Clarke, Fleo Fleury, and Esa Tikkanen excelled at getting under the skin of opponents, hiding behind their goons, and putting a few biscuits in the basket.
As much as the hometown fans loved these pests (or put up with them), these chatterboxes were often hated vehemently by opposing fans. I lost count of the number of times I told Theoren Fleury (Through my TV set) to �Shut the hell up!�

If it wasn�t their constant cheap shots and yapping that pissed you off, it was the fact that they could score a goal or complete a nice pass on top of that.

These guys could write cheques that their asses could cash, without the annoying service charges.

Now, we still have pests and agitators, but they are basically 4th liners and role players:
Ville Nieminen, Tyson Nash, Matt Barnaby, Jarko Ruutu, Steve Ott, and Sean Avery.

These guys don�t tend to draw the ire of opposing fans nearly as much as the likes of Tikkanen, nor can they add the same amount of skill and productivity to their teams. Unless you are a fan of their rival team, it�s hard to really develop a dislike to someone like Steve Ott or Ville Nieminen.
To their credit, these guys do excel at pissing off some opposing players and receiving facewashes.

Wild child Darcy Tucker is somewhat of a throw back to the old-school pests, but he�s more ultra-competitive than he is calculating. Jeremy Roenick likes to talk (and talk and talk), but he�s not making a concerted effort to be a pest.

The Abuser - It�s probably a good thing that this type of player has gone almost extinct in the NHL. While the drug abusers provided some interesting stories and a �Can�t help but stare at the accident scene� kind of morbid curiosity, these guys often ruined their careers and lives (and lives of others) with their substance abuse.

You had your cokeheads: Bob Probert, Grant Fuhr, Bryan Fogarty
...and you had your alcoholics: Link Gaetz, Ken Daneyko, Bobby Hull, Steve Chiasson (oops!), Fleo Fleury

Oh, players still like to drink, but it�s more of hockey�s dirty little secret than anything, plus the level of drug abuse is clearly not as prevalent.

With the NHL and NHLPA Substance Abuse Program in place, players generally get the help they need before it is too late. Players are more likely to abuse bodybuilding supplements and steroids more than beer and cocaine.

The Fatties

...and you had Vladimir Krutov, who, as the Vancouver urban legend goes, tied a long string around the light switch in his living so that he could turn off the lights from his couch after polishing off his 6 Big Macs. I�ve heard countless accounts of fans or friends of fans who claim they saw Krutov at a local McDonalds (especially after a game) ordering his �health� food. He really let himself go once he got to North America, and his career and health quickly deteriorated with that.
NHL players are just too well conditioned these days. If they aren�t (ie. Roman Turek), they are often publicly chastised (since they stand out) and their play really seems to slip. Gone are the days when the likes of Gump Worsley could waddle to the rink and still have a good career. Baseball has their big heroes, but hockey, alas has a bunch of fitness magazine cover models like Mike Modano.

Still, there is hope!! Calgary Flames prospect Andrei Medvedev is Russia�s new experiment in goaltending. Why have waif-like athletic goaltenders like Marek Schwarz when you can produce 300-pound sumo goaltenders that cover the whole net?

Despite the added girth, Medvedev is quite agile and athletic. He would do wonders if he could hold off on the hot dogs with extra mayo, but wouldn�t it be something if he made the NHL while possessing the full figure of Oprah Winfrey?


So, while we get the once-in-a-blue moon freakshow like Mike Danton, we don�t seem to get many funny stories about hockey players in their personal lives (think of Dino Ciccarelli flashing his underage babysitter).

As hockey itself has gotten more boring on the ice, the players have followed suit off of the ice. If there is ever anything an old hockey fan says that is true, then it is the fact that old-time players were far more interesting than new-school players.

As a hockey fan, I find it a lot easier to connect with a player if they seem �genuine� or �flawed�. It�s hard to really connect with today�s multi-million dollar players, who put off a polished image that glares way too brightly. That�s probably why I have a hard time understanding why anyone would go and stand in front of a courthouse to protest Todd Bertuzzi�s court case. That�s also why Don Cherry has such an avid following: He�s the everyman echoing the thoughts of many Canadian hockey fans (Not mine, exactly, but many others�)

Enough rambling�bring back Eddie Shack!

Martin Vojtek is a good candidate for a character player over here. He is fat, he loves to drink and he is a goalie :)
fat guys in goal? NO! Skinny 8 ft. tall people are the latest rave!

Indianapolis Ice of the CHL put former NBA-star Manute Bol in goal for a publicity stunt!
VOJTEK!! Now that Schwarz is coming to the Giants, fatboy Vojtek is the #1 goalie for Trinec. he's actually been pretty good, but he does kind of suck if he plays too much...

As for Manute Bol, he just wasn't atheletic enough for the position, and he's too skinny. His net coverage isn't great :)
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