NHL's Colorful Characters
Hockey is such a consummate team game that players are encouraged to low-key their personalities to avoid calling attention to themselves and disrupting harmony on and off the ice. But sometimes a character just can’t be suppressed. Here are 20 of the NHL’s most colorful (for better or worse) players of the present and past. A dynamic, charismatic and edgy performer, Alex Ovechkin also has a playful side. It was on display during the Breakaway Challenge competition at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal when he donned a beach hat with a Canadian flag on it and a pair of shades. Grabbing two sticks, one in each hand, he skated in on the goalie, shot and buried the rebound, then celebrated by tossing his hat and shades to the cheering crowd.
The Canadiens’ promising defenseman found himself in Le Chateau Bow-Wow in Montreal, benched for rookie mistakes and, supposedly, incurring the wrath of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards and broadcaster Don Cherry by yapping. But Habs fans took a shine to the outgoing, outspoken Subban during the 2010 playoffs, and teammate Hal Gill has defended him by saying, "That's when P.K. plays well, when he's under people's skin and forces people into poor decisions trying to hit him. I wouldn't expect him to change anything he does. You know, he's got a lot to learn about the game, but I think the way he plays, it is exciting and fun."
The NHL’s most notorious pest and accomplished trash-talker was suspended for an unsavory public statement about his former girlfriends and waived by the Dallas Stars in 2009 for becoming a disruption. While with the Rangers during the 2008 playoffs, he forced the NHL to institute a new unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after he stood waving his arms in the face of Martin Brodeur in an attempt to distract the Devils’ goaltender. ("Fatso forgot to shake my hand," Avery told reporters after the Devils were eliminated.) An internship at Vogue magazine and a reputation as a New York nightlife dandy only add to this guy’s intrigue.
His reputation as a disruptive personality is deserved, but the temperamental, tattoo’ed netminder nicknamed Razor is also known for wearing eye-popping suits that rival Don Cherry’s, putting Mike Tyson on his goalie mask, and accepting a dare from teammate Daniel Alfredsson to eat a cockroach they’d found in the Senators’ dressing room. "He’s a flamboyant guy," Jason Spezza noted, "but also a really intelligent guy. That’s why he can handle all the distractions he creates for himself."
One of the most recognizable characters during the 2010 playoffs, his bushy beard and flowing curlycue locks, since shorn and donated to Locks of Love to benefit cancer patients, were emulated by legions of Flyers fans who took advantage of the team’s Hartnell wig giveaway promotion. His hair even had its own Facebook page.
Gotta love a guy whose distinctive mustache has a Twitter account. Among ClutterStache’s more interesting observations: “The boys made it work in OT tonight, much like I make Cal's face work” and “Would it kill Cal to invest in a facewarmer? I’m about to grow frickin icicles!” and “I promised Cal I wouldn’t cry, but it’s time to take a hiatus from tweeting. I’m hoping you hear from my best friend, ClutterBeard, in April.”
How many enforcers have an economics degree from Princeton? Or wrote their senior thesis on the economic impact of the 2002 West Coast longshoremen's lockout? Or used a PlayStation Portable to play fight clips and study possible foes?
The carrot-topped blueliner became something of an icon during the Carolina Hurricanes’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2006, thanks to his fright wig hair and bathrobes. A rather arresting self-taken photo of him wearing nothing but skivvies and his Super Bowl winnings has circulated on the internet.
One of the game’s most prolific goal-scorers was also one of its most prolific quote machines. Never afraid to speak his mind, the Golden Brett was known for such blunt pronouncements as, “I'm not going to name names, but whoever's in charge of the officials or the rules committee is doing a piss-poor job” and “I would be [NHL] commissioner if I had a group of owners who weren't such Neanderthals. Get out of the Dark Ages and be realistic in your approach to running the game and be open to new ideas.” As Hull noted, “I've KO'd a lot of guys verbally. I've got one of the most vicious knockout punches with the tongue of anyone on earth.”
No surprise that he got into broadcasting. He was known for running his mouth during his playing days. His most famous exchange was during the 1996 Western Conference semifinals. Skating for the Blackhawks, he was dragged down with no penalty called during a breakaway in Game 4 after having beaten Colorado goalie Patrick Roy on a similar play two nights earlier. "I like Patrick's quote that he would've stopped me," Roenick said. "I'd just want to know where he was in Game 3, probably getting his jock out of the rafters in the United Center maybe." Roy, no shrinking violet himself, famously replied, "I can’t really hear what Jeremy says because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears."
The cocky pint-sized pot-stirrer ultimately became known for darker things like alcohol and drug abuse, which he candidly addresses in his book Playing With Fire , but during his heyday, he infuriated his teammates with his boasting and his opponents with his yapping, slashing and flamboyant goal celebrations, such as riding his stick or sliding half the length of the rink on his knees while pumping his fists. Fleury fearlessly mixed it up in the corners and in front of the net with guys who had 50 pounds on him, and even got into a shoving match with the San Jose Sharks’ mascot.
One of the game’s most notorious villains looked like Shrek, standing at about 5’-10” with a size-eight head. He had the flamboyance of a pro wrestler and was infamous for his cheap shots and heavyweight bouts with Detroit tough guy Bob Probert. In 1996, he sucker-punched Ulf Samuelsson into unconsciousness, later claiming "He said, 'C'mon, Dummy, let's fight,' three times. He did egg me on." However, Samuelsson’s Swedish accent likely made “Domi” sound like “dummy.” In 2001, Domi even got into a brawl with a fan in Philadelphia…while sitting in the penalty box.
The Finnish pest wielded his stick like a demented surgeon – he once provoked the ordinarily unflappable Wayne Gretzky to hit him in the head -- while babbling in an incomprehensible tongue known as "Tikkanese." While playing for the Oilers one night, Tikkanen was jawing at linemate Jimmy Carson and he kept ranting after they returned to the bench. Carson asked their other linemate, Finnish winger Jari Kurri, what Tikkanen was saying. Kurri listened and said, "I have no idea." In one of Tikkanen’s clearer moments, he stated, "We need to play like a team, right now we're just playing with ourselves."
A beloved member of the Red Wings’ famed Grind Line, McCarty fronted a rock band named, naturally, Grinder. For that, his teammates bestowed upon him the nickname “Mac Jagger.” He played gigs around the U.S. and rubbed elbows with music luminaries such as Kid Rock, who he considered a friend.
No one spent more time in the sin bin (3,966 minutes plus 455 more in the playoffs, or the total equivalent of more than three days), than the ultra-scrappy Williams, who delighted in riling opponents by riding his stick down the ice after scoring a goal and taking on the league’s fiercest enforcers. When asked who his toughest fistic opponents were, Williams replied, “All of them.”
A native of Staten Island, Nicky was hardly the most skilled guy on the ice, but he was pure Noo Yawk scrappy and beloved in Madison Square Garden where he often tossed pucks to the Ranger faithful during pregame warm-ups. As tough as a bus station porterhouse, Fotiu was the one guy that the Flyers’ infamous Dave “The Hammer” Schultz thought twice about fighting.
An infuriating pest who had a reputation for coming up huge in the playoffs, Lemieux once bit Flames forward Jim Peplinski’s finger during a fight and was a central figure in the heated rivalry between his Avalanche and the Red Wings that included their infamous brawls of March and May 1997. While playing for the Devils, Lemieux was called “a cancer” by his own coach, Herb Brooks. Lemieux replied, “He knows I was born in June.”
Goaltenders have a reputation for being a bit, well, odd and no one was odder than Gratton, who believed he had been reincarnated and once peeled off his duds to streak around the ice while playing for the WHA’s Toronto Toros. One of his favored tactics was feigning injury when he needed a breather during a game. When his concerned teammates gathered around him, Gratton would whisper “poisson mort” (French for “dead fish”) to let them know he was okay.
The netminder’s flat-top, nickname (his real first name was Lorne) and roly-poly physique automatically made him a character, but his priceless one-liners were icing on the donut. Among his best: when asked which team gave him the most trouble, Worsley replied, “The Rangers.” He was playing for the Rangers at the time.
His nicknames – “The Entertainer” and “The Nose” – said it all. The feisty, exuberant forward often led Maple Leafs fans in chants of “We want Shack!” and even inspired a song called, “Clear the Track, Here Comes Eddie Shack.” And you had to admire his honesty. After scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Leafs, he told reporters the puck had actually hit him in the caboose and gone in the net while he was trying to get out of the way. Shack also had an appetite for pugilism and famously resumed a brawl with Larry Zeidel…in the stands where they’d gone after being tossed for having a nasty stickfight.