Is "Grit" Valuable, or Just Make-Believe Skill?

Nelson SantosCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2008

Grit is defined as "firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck."

Grit is also a term often used when hockey fans talk about players on their favourite team that don’t often contribute tangible results, such as goals or assists. Checking-line or energy players are usually described as gritty or tenacious. Coaches express to the media hordes that so-and-so adds a bit of sandpaper to our line up.

But when is claiming grit as a positive attribute, enough?

After naming the 2002 Canadian Men’s Olympic team, Wayne Gretzky was questioned by the Canadian media as to whether he was worried that they didn’t have enough grit or hard workers in the line up. Gretzky responded with maybe the truest statement ever heard in hockey: "The only thing that beats hard work in a hockey game is hard work and skill."

It was at this point that I began to be far more conservative with my use of the term grit when describing a particular player and his positive attributes.

I do believe grit is an excellent quality for a professional hockey player to possess—as a matter of fact, many of the games superstars only achieved that next level once they add a little grit to their game. Hockey is a physical sport, and you can’t succeed playing along the perimeter.

I understand that. However, the key here is to add grit to tangible skill sets—otherwise, the player is nothing more than...well, grit.

Nothing irks me more than to hear fans list only grit as the reason a player is good or invaluable to their team. Grit is a last-ditch effort to find something positive to say about a player. These fans will claim that the gritty style has an impact on the game. The fans I’m referring to know who they are.

These are the fans who claim grit and a missed high-sticking infraction by the Great One are the reasons they were one win away from a trip to the NHL Finals in 1993.  Some of these fans believe grit was the ingredient that made the replacement of Mats Sundin for Wendel Clark a mistake.

Many of these fans claimed the grit supplied by over-the-hill acquisitions such Gary Roberts, Owen Nolan—and Clark, twice—was going to strengthen their team for long runs through the playoffs. Grit was the reason Darcy Tucker was worth the contract awarded to him—well, until the Leafs started missing out on the playoffs and Tucker and his gritty presence became expendable.

Ryan Hollweg is destined to be the new fan favourite, because the only positive anyone could ever list about his game is grit. Grit was the edge the Maple Leafs held over the much more talented and skilled Ottawa Senators that allowed for annual first-round upsets.

Incorrect. Ottawa’s inexperience and shaky goaltending is what cost them those series.

So to all these fans, may I suggest that before you go on about the grit a certain player provides, make sure that player possess some type of hockey-related skill sets.  Talent is always a nice start.

Let me end with a quote by one of the greatest hockey minds I know:

"Grit may win you a shift or a game. But talent wins you championships."

                                                                                                            Nelson Santos