Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
What is “tough?” For years, hockey analysts have been tossing around the term like over-eager waiters taking care of business at a salad bar.
Some may believe it has to do with the amount of times you can knock out opponents. Some instead argue it has to do with the amount of times you get caught playing dirty. Don Cherry, meanwhile, uniquely chooses to mishear the word as “Canadian.”
Truth be told, all hockey players are tough to a certain degree. You need to be in order to play a physical sport that allows open-ice hits, small pieces of vulcanized rubber being launched at you at upwards of 100 miles per hour and, unfortunately, shots to the head (as long as it’s not what’s targeted).
Still, here are 10 National Hockey League players who are tougher than you’d think.
New Jersey Devil David Clarkson hits Los Angeles King Trevor Lewis.
A 30-goal campaign will certainly give guys the wrong idea as to just what you bring to the table, but Clarkson also led the New Jersey Devils in penalties in minutes last year with 138.
He did so in 2010-11 as well (116). Ditto for 2008-09, when he had 164. More of the same in 2007-08 (183), his first full season in the league.
In fact, the only blemish on his near-perfect record came in 2009-10 when he only played in 46 games and obviously tried to make up for lost time by amassing 85 PIM.
Of course, most of these minutes stem from fights, making Clarkson one tough SOB, seeing as he clearly does not need to drop the gloves, meaning, on some sick, twisted level, he must enjoy it.
Including preseason action, Clarkson has fought 80 times. That’s an average of over 13 fights per season, including 2006-07 when he only played in seven games and didn’t fight once. Crazy guy, this Clarkson.
Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers.
While the undrafted Dan Girardi could easily have made this list instead of New York Rangers-teammate Ryan McDonagh, he did make last season’s NHL All-Star Game, and, as such, is obviously pretty tough.
Of course, another defensive specialist by the name of Mike Komisarek also made it a few years ago, and we all know how his career has derailed in the seasons since. So let’s not follow in his footsteps and let the success (or a Milan Lucic punch) go to your head.
In any case, Ryan McDonagh has proven himself to be much more than a pretty face, thankfully. He’s a willing shot-blocker (obviously having taken a few in said face), a more-than-competent defender and a top-pairing blue-liner. Not bad for a guy who will forever be linked to one Scott Gomez, eh?
Let me put it out there: Defenseman Matt Greene can’t fight. Oh, he tries real hard, but that’s about it.
Don’t get me wrong: Greene is big…and he is strong. However, he can’t put the two together to save his life in a fistfight. It’s like adding one and one and getting minus three.
So bad is he that HockeyFights.com voters couldn’t even bring themselves to declare him the winner in a fight he instigated against then-Dallas Star James Neal.
Let me say that again: Greene jumped an unsuspecting Neal and still couldn’t win…James friggin’ Neal, a guy who presumably wouldn’t know how to throw a punch if you turned on Fight Night and handed him a four-button controller.
So, why is Greene on this list? Because he tries, and toughness is not only about throwing punches, but being willing to take them for your team. He was also a key physical component of the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup-winning team, which, you know, is pretty gosh darn cool.
Josh Gorges of the Montreal Canadiens.
Josh Gorges led the league in blocked shots last season, to the tune of over three per game.
Gorges is unquestionably a warrior and an unquestioning one at that, always willing to do what is asked no matter the toll it will take on his body.
The old hockey saying goes, “Your goalie is your best penalty killer.” However, for Montreal, it was Gorges, and that’s saying a lot of his abilities and just how tough he is as Montreal finished second in the league at 89.6%.
New Jersey Devil Martin Brodeur is so tough he takes on two guys at once.
"Tough” can also mean durable and that’s New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur in a nutshell. He has appeared in 70 or more games over 12 NHL seasons and 10 straight, setting a record in the process (in addition to the one he holds for most career victories, 656).
Obviously, those days are behind him, but he continues trucking along as if it were a decade ago, in spite of the moose (Johan Hedberg) Devils management has thrown in his career path.
Of course, playing for a defensively aware team like the Devils has helped to pad his stats over the years, but saying Brodeur isn’t tough is like saying Newark isn’t tough.
Sure, crime has gone down in recent years, ever since Time magazine named it the most dangerous city in the United States in 1996. Still, you’re not going to make a point of driving around in a fancy car all the time. Yet, Brodeur manages to make his way to work at the Prudential Center every day in a BMW (via Wheels.ca). Tough as nails, I’m telling you.
When you think Brian Campbell, you think two things: soup and the insane eight-year, $57,143,000 contract he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2008.
Even taking into account the great season he had this past year, helping to lead the Florida Panthers to the postseason, it clearly wasn’t justified money. But Campbell is admittedly more than meets the eye (Youppi!’s understudy, perhaps?).
In fact, he’s quite capable of doling out serious punishment, as then-Philadelphia Flyer R.J. Umberger discovered during the 2005-06 playoffs.
Add into the equation his missing only one month instead of the two projected when Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin broke his clavicle and a rib in 2010, and you have one tough cookie…a weird, red-headed cookie, but a tough one nonetheless.
Nathan Gerbe is one tough cat, who looks like a gerbil, has the name to match, and is about as tall. In fact, Gerbe (actually pronounced “Grr-bee”), at 5’6” is the shortest player currently in the NHL.
That is Gerbe’s current claim to fame, along with a mention in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode.
The episode saw a bereaved couple covering up the death of their infant son, whom they had named “Nathan” based on the father’s love for hockey and an implication that Gerbe had led the Sabres in PIM one season.
There are, of course, a few things wrong with that:
1) If you’re going to name a baby after a hockey player, you name him Wayne, Gordie or Mario. You don’t name a kid after a player who at the time of your baby’s birth could have easily become a career AHLer.
2) Why would the Law & Order writers choose to include such a random tidbit? I mean, fine, name the kid Nathan, but it’s not as if it’s that uncommon of a name to warrant some kind of weird, convoluted backstory. And, if that weren’t enough…
3) …Gerbe never actually led the Sabres in PIM, not even close. Geez, how did these parents ever make it out of the episode unarrested with so many holes in their story?
Still, a research mistake of that nature can definitely play to Gerbe’s favor. He already plays with an edge. Maybe he really is that vicious. He must have tough skin, at the very least, having to deal with all the short jokes, right?
I mean, if David Desharnais can make fun of you, you’re definitely more likely to either be in elementary school or the Smurfs’ live-action movie than the NHL.
In addition, you know what they say about gerbils, right? The fiercest member of the animal kingdom. If not, you heard it here first.
When Max Pacioretty first sustained his broken neck at the hands of Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara, at lot of people thought he was dead. No joke, not that anyone should joke about something like that.
There was that much heightened emotion and concern in the Bell Centre immediately following the hit.
The fact that Patches was able to come back as fast as he has, the way that he has (winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy after scoring 33 goals and 65 points last season) is a testament to his toughness and clearly justifies a new nickname of Wolverine.
He did play for the University of Michigan, after all.
Everyone knows Jarome Iginla is tough. Sure, he can score, but he can also fight.
So, when Vincent Lecavalier shocked the hockey world by dropping the gloves with the Calgary Flames captain, it showed a new side of him that few had ever seen before. It proved he was willing to do whatever it took to secure the 2004 Stanley Cup. The fact that he held his own? Just gravy.
Lecavalier is many things: tall, a brunette, an overrated talent, seriously on the decline, in hindsight an unjustified No. 1 pick (Pavel Datsyuk, but admittedly just barely), not worthy of the Lightning’s captaincy (Martin St. Louis), etc. But a fighter? Who knew?
In fact, he fights more often than you’d think, with a total of 21 bouts to his name.
Of course, Lecavalier also opted to fight Zdeno Chara once upon a time and lost, but you really don’t enter into a fight with the big man expecting to win…just hoping to survive, really. It really should give you new respect for Bryan McCabe.
Saku Koivu of the Anaheim Ducks.
During his time with the Montreal Canadiens, Saku Koivu became famous for being injury prone. Ironically enough, that all changed when he was diagnosed with cancer. Then he justifiably became the guy that beat cancer, following in the footsteps of Mario Lemieux.
Of course, Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel beat cancer as well, but Koivu has been so beat around and down over the years, it’s a miracle he’s still playing at the age of 38.
His injuries include everything from typical groin and knee injuries to the ever-exotic detached retina. Indeed, during the Habs’ first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2005-06, he sustained a horrendous eye injury that still limits his peripheral vision to this day.
In that series, Montreal was up 2-0 after winning two-straight in Carolina. Without Koivu in the lineup? Montreal lost four straight, indicating just how much he meant to the team.
Koivu could have hung up his skates any number of times without anyone thinking any less of him, and yet Koivu refuses to. Time and again, he has proven himself to be a consummate professional, leader and hockey player.
As argued initially, all hockey players are tough. If Koivu is the archetypal hockey player, draw your own conclusions as to just who the toughest player in the game is today, including the more-obvious choices that couldn’t be selected for this piece.