Hockey Heros a Breed Apart

Mark GregoryContributor IIIAugust 12, 2009

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 18:  Former Chicago Blackhawks player Tony Esposito signs autographs as he arrives at the 2009 NHL Awards at the Palms Casino Resort on June 18, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

What Canadian boy grew up without a hockey hero?

Lemaire to Yvan Cournoyer streaking down the wing, he shoots! And what a save by Tony O.  Yes I was a goalie growing up and I have always rooted for the underdog.
There is nothing more satisfying than rooting for a team not expected to win but by a miracle your team pulls it out at the last minute. I think the 72 Canada Russia series has changed the Canadian psyche more than any other event in this generation.

Tony Esposito in 1969-1970 recorded 15 shutouts in his first full season in the league in only 63 games, winning the Stanley cup. In 1970 he won the Calder cup. He had 76 shutouts in his career good for 9th place on the all time shutout leaders, and 423 career wins good for seventh overall. Tony O won the Vezina three times, he was one of the original butterfly style goalies, that I of course emulated. Tony played 4 games in the 72 summit series posting the lowest GA average of the 3 goalies that played. Incidentally rumor has it that Tony and his brother Phil (probably the greatest hockey brothers of all time) came up with the name for the Tampa Bay Lightening during a thunderstorm.

Thank god I wasn’t born any earlier or my face might look today like Gerry Cheevers mask. I can still remember to this day taking an orange street hockey ball square on the forehead which seemed to arrive in slow motion. After this incident my Jacque Plant mask was part of my regular street hockey equipment, along with foam pads, a 1st baseman’s baseball glove and a hockey glove with a piece of wood attached with inner tube tires as a blocker.

I’m always interested to hear who are the draft picks heros growing up. You hear few people say their hero is Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier or Brodeur. Smaller players like Paul Kariya. Tough players like Jeremy Roenick. Fast players like Gilbert Perrault. Players with a good wrist shot and a mustache like Lanny McDonald. Swedes like BJ Salming. Russians like Sergei Fedorov and Bure. Habs fans like the Rocket, Larry Robinson, Patrick Roy, and  Guy Lafleur. Leaf fans like Wendel and Gilmore. Boston players like Orr, Esposito, Don Cherry and Neeley. Colorado fans like Joe Sakic and Forsberg. Islander fans Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin. God bless Islander fans as they have gone through some lean years. Same can be said of Blackhawk fans. Anyone who doesn’t like the present draft system rewarding the last place teams just has to think of the fans in these two long suffering cities.

I hated when the Montreal Canadians won the cup 5 times in a row, same as the Oilers, same as the Red Wings dynasty. It was great for hockey to have the Penguins win it all last year, and this year it is any ones cup, there is really no superpower as Detroit and Pittsburg are definitely beatable. It finally might be Chicago's year.

There is a new generation growing up and emulating the present NHL hockey players J. Iginla, H. Zetterberg, N. Lidstrom, S. Crosby, E. Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.
It is strange to hear headlines of Guy lafleur going to court. Though hockey is now a more international sport it will always be Canada s game. Worldwide Soccer and Basketball produces the most popular heros in the world. But to me it’s Ronaldo who? And isn’t Beckham the guy married to a spice girl. Jordon is a Nike shoe salesman and Dennis Rodman is the guy with green hair. Rose is the gambler and Michael Vick runs a dog fight ring. Right or wrong hockey players are held up to a higher standard. That’s why Avery was run out of Dallas for trash talking about his former girlfriend, which no doubt is a nightly occurrence on the pro basketball courts.

Only the Olympics breed greater hero’s in sports. These are athletes that train and complete for no money and basically for self accomplishment and for the honor of representing their country. Though I have trouble getting worked up over a ping pong champion even though I love the game. A gold champion of an equestrian event or pole vaulting really does nothing for me, though I guess if I competed in these sports they would hold more significance.

Michael Phelps is a typical American hero, invincible yet human. Anyone put under a microscope is fallible, the whole concept of a hero is really unrealistic. To err is human. I guess this is why superhero movies are so popular today.