As most people who’ve ever played contact hockey know, fear is a real element of the game. To not play with any is an advantage. To instill it in others is a strength.
Me? Well, I had it, and didn’t instill it in others, so I feel qualified to speak on this.
In honor of Halloween, I give to you hockey’s five scariest hitters.
First off, our honorable mentions – Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger who likely be top-10-ers based on sheer size, but neither are the definition of a pure body-check artist. They’re just huge, powerful men. Shea Weber and Douglas Murray are definitely in the top 5 debate too.
Cal Clutterbuck led the league in hits last year, and is one off the lead again this year. But, frequency doesn’t necessarily mean scary.
Alex Ovechkin deserves mention for being an elite scorer and finishing 10th in the NHL in hits last season (whether you think the stats are inaccurate or not, that’s impressive). Oh, and he once did this to Jaromir Jagr.
And last, Ben Eager just missed out. He’s built like a bowling ball, skates particularly well and can be reckless about it. I would be crazy-scared to play him.
But, crazy-scared doesn’t begin to describe playing the next five guys. In order, starting with…
5. Matt Martin, New York Islanders
6’3″ - 210lbs
Here’s the League’s most underrated body checkist.
Like Clutterbuck, the Islanders Matt Martin has no problem with consistency. In 68 games played in which he averaged around 10 minutes of ice time per, Martin managed to finish 4th in the leauge in hits, with 1 shy of 300.
He gets the nod over Clutterbuck for the sheer venom with which he plays. He doesn’t finish his checks to make coach happy so he can get more ice time. He’s a brute that wants to put players in the 4th row with glass in their equipment. And that’s scary.
Who puts down Hal Gill twice?
4. David Backes
6’3″ – 216lbs
I had the privilege of playing against David Backes in college for a couple years, and learned one thing: he does not want to chat or be buddy-buddy. There are certain players you just want to tell to calm down sometimes, and that’s the case with Backes. “It’s only a game” is not a thought he’s ever had.
He reminds me of a gun-strapped soldier bravely crossing enemy lines…for the sheer purpose of liking hand-to-hand combat.
Oh, and he hits like a goddam truck.
That’s one of dozens of YouTube clips that start with “David Backes destroys” or “David Backes rocks.”
3. Milan Lucic
6’4″ – 220lbs
“6’4″, 220 is a good place to start. When you see big guys near other big guys, you tend to lose perspective on just how big they are. If you spent some time near Lucic you’d realize – that is just so, so much human.
And considering the amount of time that he’s on the ice, the anger with which he plays, and how well he skates (not to mention his good balance), and you have a recipe for pain.
At least the pain is a maybe. The fear thing is for sure.
2. Niklas Kronwall
Wait, what? 6’0″ 190 and dude trucks opposing forwards so often this video got made? That’s incredible.
If I were a winger on the ice against him I’d swing so low for breakouts you’d think I was a third d-man. He’s the type of guy who actually makes you change how you play, his timing and balance are just that good. Check out the hit on Dany Heatley from last year once more for good measure.
Also, remember that Heatley is HUGE himself.
1. Dion Phaenuf
6’3″ – 214lbs
Phaneuf is demonstrating with regularity that he can time open-ice hits like Scott Stevens, and we haven’t seen that in awhile. Despite that fact, the worst part about playing him is that he seems like the type of miserable prick (on-ice) who thrives on crumbling collarbones. He looks for those hits so he can feast.
Gahhhh arrest this madman now. What does he do for an encore next year, just balance a gun on his head?
You could sit on YouTube for hours watching his collection. Hey look, here’s a good one:
Despite all the NHL players that can strike fear into the hearts of opponents with simply shoulders, for my money, Dion comes out on top.