April 21, 2011

True Grit - Players Who Heat it Up !!!

There are a handful of players in the NHL who are known for a style of play focused on battling in the corners, open ice hits, and gritty work at both ends of the ice. Players like Milan Lucic, Matt Hendricks and Brandon Dubinsky are prime examples of current skaters who play with such a high level intensity. Guys like Lucic battle through every whistle, trying to create a chance out of nothing. With the 2011 playoffs under way, crowds all over North America are just waiting for exhilarating plays from these athletes to get them out of their seats.

Most teams in the NHL have at least one of these players on their rosters, and often look to them to provide a spark to the rest of squad. With teams putting their foot on the gas during the playoffs, they look to their grittiest players to get the crowd to their feets. However, there is a fine line between gritty and dirty. As we’ve seen in these playoffs, that line can be crossed. Hits like the one Steve Downie had on Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy show the grey area that refs have to deal with both night in and night out. So when a player like Downie steps on the ice with the goal to energize his team with a thundering hit, he has to make sure he’s playing within the rules. From a fans point of view it can be summed up in one sentence; everyone loves the big hits, but no one loves the injuries.

Ian Laperierre was one of the pinnacle “sand paper” players in the history of the NHL. He killed penalties, fore-checked, back-checked, and most importantly, blocked shots. These are all common traits amongst the elite players in the NHL, but Laperierre became these traits. When asked about Lapiererre’s style of play Adrian Dater of the Denver Post responded by saying ; “He is Braveheart on skates, the guy who will throw his body in front of a screaming slap shot with no second thought or fight the guy who just hit a teammate a little too hard for his liking". Players like Laperierre bring teams together and motivate their teammates by their passion and exciting play. The NHL needs more Laperierre’s.

The only kryptonite to a gritty player is playing on a line without a skill player. No matter how much a line can cycle the puck, or press the defense to turn the puck over in their own end; without skilled players, goals wiould be few and far between. The excitement sand paper players bring to the ice is what makes the National Hockey League the dark horse of sports that it is. As long as players like Lucic and Hendricks jump into the heat of battle like their hair’s on fire, the NHLs fan base will continue to grow.

- Matt Gamelin

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