“Toughness” in hockey is valued to a borderline comical degree, but amongst the majority of hockey people the concept is often misunderstood. It’s not just fans who associate the trait with knuckle-hucking face-punchers, meaning somehow guys like Brian McGrattan have NHL jobs. True hockey toughness, the kind that really matters, is found in the players who are willing to win races to pucks.
Everyone even loosely affiliated with hockey is aware of the expression “take the hit to make the play.” It’s particularly relevant to wingers: you get the puck on the wall, and either the opposing d-man is pinching or F3 is bearing down on you, and you have roughly a second to do the right thing with the puck, with the “right thing” being “try to find a tape-to-tape play, and if there isn’t one, find a way to get the puck out of the zone.” It takes some mental steel to know you’re about to get hit hard and still hang in there to make the right play instead of the easy one. (Interestingly, this is where I find “tough guys” to be the least tough. They don’t want to get embarrassed, so they bang the puck off the boards into the neutral zone without looking for a better option, then try to hit whoever’s coming to hit them while knowing they made their coach happy by getting it out. Then they regroup and wait for their pseudo-turnover to come right back at them.)
But “take the hit to make the play” doesn’t just apply to the times you have the puck – more than anything it applies to the times you’re racing for it, and somebody’s gotta get there first and get hit. Which do you think Colton Orr wants to do more – throw the hit or make a play on the puck? How about Patrice Bergeron? Jonathan Toews? Read the rest of this entry »