Ryan Reaves talks trash at world-class levels. He does not lob insults so much as pelt triple-digit fastballs that paint the black, swing away if you dare. It probably helps that these barbs are backed by 225 pounds of tattooed, pork-powered muscle (more on that later), but the Golden Knights winger can hurl some creative verbal uppercuts too. “Being able to chirp back and forth is one of my favorite things in hockey, especially if somebody is talking s--- after a fight,” Reaves says, though his absolute favorite move involves saying nothing at all. “My big thing is laughing in guys’ faces. I think that drives people crazy. In my eyes, anyway.”
All of which leads to a burning question:
How would Ryan Reaves go after Ryan Reaves?
“I’d go straight for the hands, first of all,” he says. “I look like I’m stickhandling cinder blocks. I’d probably start with that. Oh, where else would I go? Probably tell myself that I’m dragging around at least two pianos out there, that I should probably mix in a hard stride. I’d start with the hands, though. You got to go with the hands.”
Clearly self-awareness and humor are strengths. So is, well, strength. It was surprising enough when Reaves learned he had been from St. Louis traded to Pittsburgh last June, effectively hired as personal protection for the likes of Sidney Crosby. But then he was shipped west toward Sin City, whereupon Vegas general manager George McPhee lauded acquiring “a big strong guy that brings some grit” in a three-team trade on Feb. 23.
“It’s been fun,” says Reaves, who had two assists in 15 games on the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights’ fourth line through Tuesday. “It’s a bunch of players all in the same boat. They all have something to prove. They all have been let go by their teams and picked up here, and everybody has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. Everybody’s out here proving that they should’ve been protected by their team or they made a mistake.”
To a degree, this includes Reaves. His stint with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions lasted all of six months, but he left behind a trail of meme-worthy moments: answering questions while wearing a Steelers helmet; conducting a Reddit AMA in which he contemplated fighting 100 duck-sized Cody McLeods or one Cody McLeod-sized duck; whooping winger Phil Kessel in basketball; startling the bejesus out of Kessel with a clown mask; customizing a Thriller-themed Kessel T-shirt that someone else now sells on Amazon …
We’re sensing a theme here. In a wide-ranging—and mostly ridiculous—Q&A with SI.com, Reaves discusses his friendship with Kessel, his football background (his father Willard was a standout CFL running back), planning goal celebrations, imitating goal horns and more.
SI: What’s the most Vegas thing that’s happened to you so far?
RR: I haven’t really done too much yet. I went to see my buddy Alonzo Bodden, he’s a comedian here, I went to see his comedy show. He had me on the floor laughing the whole time. I haven’t seen too many shows. We went to Absinthe when I was with Pittsburgh, and that show was hilarious. Probably the funniest show I’ve ever seen.
The craziest time was we were playing soccer before the game and one of the loading dock gates opened right next to where we were playing. You could just see the Strip right there. I stopped and was like, “I can’t believe I’m playing hockey here.”
SI: Are you happy to be in the Western Conference?
RR: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. When you play in the West, if you go out East, you don't really realize the difference. But when you play in the East, then playing against the Eastern teams, you see the difference. It’s more quickness and pace and not a lot of big bodies out there. And out West there’s definitely some bigger teams to play a little more physical game. I definitely like the West better. I think it’s tailor-made for my game.
SI: But Vegas didn’t really have a player like you. They were the opposite of that model.
RR: They still are, I think. It’s a quick team. I remember when we played them with Pittsburgh, they were flying around all over the ice and we couldn’t handle their speed. Maybe it was just that day, but they surprised us and I think they’ve surprised a lot of teams with how fast they are throughout the season. I think we’re a dangerous team because we have that much speed.
The fans are into it the whole game. It’s loud. They put on a good show. They’ve got the drumline. I used to play a little drums when I was younger. I think that’s so cool they have that during the game. Just everything they do, the production, how loud they play the music, everything … you just feel like you’re in Vegas.
SI: Tell me about your drum days.
RR: In my school you had to be in band for three years. They put me at clarinet, and I don't know if I look like I belonged playing the clarinet, but I didn’t think so. So I switched over to drums. I used to have a drum kit. I wasn’t anything special but I used to play around a little bit.
Once I left that school to play hockey in Brandon, I wasn’t in band anymore. I didn’t bring my drum kit with me. That was it. I never really picked it up again.
SI: They should ask you to go up there in the castle at T-Mobile Arena.
RR: I’d need some practice. Couldn’t be messing up the drumline in front of 20,000 people.
SI: Have you done the what-if math in your mind, if you had stuck to football?
RR: I did it a little bit in the minors. My first year in Brandon was my first year not playing football and I really missed it. I thought about going back. I remember I was talking to my parents, I think I want to play football again. I just never really pulled the trigger on it. I guess I run through it in my head once or twice, but you never know. I was good when I was young, but I could’ve been bottom of the barrel or I could’ve been really good. It’s tough to say.
SI: Okay, hypothetically, you’re an NFL tight end right now. You catch a touchdown. What’s the celebration?
RR: You know what, it would probably be something to do with the stadium we were playing in. I have so many good ones that I want to do on the ice in different arenas. I just don’t score enough.
SI: Can you share any, or are they surprises?
RR: I mean, it’s going to be a big surprise if I score, so … I know in Columbus, I wanted to scrape the ice and do the LeBron James, throw the baby powder. See, I’ve got good ones coming up. But I just don’t score, so you’ll never see them.
I had one for Detroit where I was going to put my glove on my stick and slam it down and do the Little Caesars pizza-pizza thing. I don't know if people would’ve understood what it was.
SI: Do you think hockey players should be more creative with their celebrations?
RR: Absolutely. I think things like that sell the game. You need a little bit of flare in sports. People talk about football celebrations. They brought it back for a reason. People talk about it. People want to see it. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but I think guys should do something. I’d be doing something every day if I was a goal-scorer. I’d have 100 different ones.
SI: Did you really eat pork chops with applesauce during intermission in juniors?
RR: Yeah, I would do either three pork chops with applesauce, or three burgers. And it’d be two before warmups, then one after the first period. I went through food like a garbage disposal. It was out of control how much I ate. I would be absolutely starving by the second period. I couldn’t deal with it anymore, so I just started eating. I think I stopped in [AHL’s] Peoria, my first [pro] year, because I didn’t want to hear the heat about it.
At home, my billets would make it. On the road, I’d usually ask someone in the arena to go grab me a couple burgers. Usually it was burgers on the road, pork chops at home. I wasn’t trying to beef up. I was just starving. I hate being starving and I couldn’t deal with it during the game. I started eating right before, then after the first.
SI: Do you still get hungry during games?
RR: I get hungry if I don’t play a lot. That’s the only time I really notice it. Not so much. I eat a pretty decent pregame meal now. I don't know if I’m going to be doing the burgers anymore. I don't think I’m that hungry that I need a burger between periods anymore.
SI:The goal horn imitation. It was learned at a nightclub?
RR: Yeah, I was out with my old [St. Louis] linemate Max Lapierre, and we had a day off. The whole team was off. He did it and I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a fire alarm going off and I turned around and his mouth was wide open. I looked and was like, 'Was that you?' He did it again.
I used to do it to [Blues goalie] Carter Hutton all the time, the backup goalie in St. Louis. We’d always be doing drills, so after practice I’d let him know sometime somebody scored.
SI: Can you do different arenas?
RR: I’ve never tried a different one, but that’s the only one I’ve really tried.
SI: I hope you’re mic’ed up and score…
RR: ...and do the goal horn? It’s got to be on the road, though. At home you wouldn’t be able to hear it. I have thought about doing that on the road, because then people would think why is there a goal horn going off?
RR: I think being traded at all was more of a shock, because I was protected in the draft and especially getting traded to where I did. Pittsburgh was known for that fast game, and they didn’t really have a player like me, and they won the past two Cups. So that was the last place I’d ever expect to be traded. At the same time, you saw the abuse that especially Sid would take during the playoffs. I understood, but I was definitely shocked that I got traded.
SI: If they got you for playoff protection, do you find it odd that you were traded before the playoffs?
RR: Yeah, I think that’s part even weirder. But they really wanted that [Derick] Brassard guy, so I guess that’s what had to happen to get that deal done. That’s the business of hockey.
SI: How much do you miss Phil?
RR: I miss Phil. I miss a lot of the guys. I miss Phil’s antics every day. I wish I was getting daily updates on what’s going on with Phil. I try to keep in touch with a couple of the guys.
SI: Did you get to know him well?
RR: I kind of gravitated towards him. We sat next to each other on the plane. We played cards. I got to know him pretty well, as well as anybody can in a short five months. We hung out on the road all the time. He’s a good guy. Phil’s a good character. He’s like a cartoon character. If I was going to make some money, I would draw a cartoon and put it on TV of Phil.
SI: Would you have to invent storylines or would it be biographical?
RR: Probably a little bit of both.
SI: Do you have a favorite Phil Kessel memory?
RR: When I scared him. You can see it on the camera, but seeing the fear in his face live was hilarious to me. It looked like he was about to have a heart attack. He dropped some things. He grabbed his chest. You could see he was legitimately scared.
SI: And you’d done that before with other guys, right?
RR: I got [Kevin] Shattenkirk, not with the mask. I got Scotty Gomez with the same mask. I got [Steve] Ott in his car, and I wrapped Ian Cole’s car in Saran wrap.
RR: You know what, he wouldn’t admit it. Somebody tried to get me with a couple water pranks, but I was on high alert because I’d just got here and I figured he’d be coming for me. I stopped them both in their tracks. He told me it wasn’t him. I’ll take his word until I find out otherwise.
SI: Did you take any pride from the NHLPA poll that voted you the league’s toughest player?
RR: Yeah, it was pretty cool to see how many votes I got. I guess I can use that against guys who want to act tough now.
SI: You can just keep barking out “44.7%, man!”
RR: Exactly. I’m going to be a numbers guy from now on.