The old-school hockey player is an endangered species. He still lurks around the rink, delivering a bone-jarring hit every now and then, but he’s wary and gun-shy as the threat of extinction looms each shift. He’s looking over his shoulder, hoping his checking victim is OK, hoping the referee’s hand isn’t raised, because all it takes is one Brendan Shanahan video and the old-school style disappears forever.
Remember the 1980s? When the game was flooded with old-school players? Those were the good ol’ days of 10-goal games, fights, glass-rattling hits, bench-clearing brawls, superstars who posted eye-popping numbers, and, best of all, Gary Bettman was nowhere to be found.
Sometimes I see the spinning-cylinder time warp, and I jump backward into the greatest decade in hockey. I see images of Bob Probert dropping the gloves, pounding a challenger, then scoring a goal. I see Scott Stevens drill an opponent into birdie-flying cartoon land, then rifle a shot from atop the circles for a power-play tally. I see Cam Neely check, fight, pass, score, then do it all over again the next period. I see …
A female hand flush across my face.
And the daydream is over.
Look, the glorious days of skilled, barbaric 1980s hockey are long gone. It’s a pipe dream to hope they return, but we still can establish a cliff-notes version. There’s 10 modern-day players who fit the old-school mold: size, speed, skill, scoring, physicality and fisticuffs. They’re endangered species, yes, but if we clone these guys several hundred times, we’ll have a perfecto NHL.
The 10 players below would make Chris Chelios proud. So proud, in fact, he’ll jab them with a wooden stick, face-wash them twice, punch loose two teeth, then offer an ice-cold beverage to numb the pain.
Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs
The pronunciation of his last name is perfect. It resembles the sound effect after a belly punch. Phaneuf!
Dion is a derailed train, ready to deliver his bull-in-a-china-shop devastation. He doesn’t care if you’re as small as Jiri Hudler, or as big as Milan Lucic. There’s no remorse.And how’s this for nasty: Phaneuf once drilled an opponent head-over-heels into the bench five seconds into a game. How is that possible? Only an old-schooler could pull off such a stunt.
Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Every time Chara drops the gloves, I get concerned.I get concerned when his 8-foot-11-inch frame towers above the poor soul five feet below him. I get so concerned, that I make sure all women and children cover their eyes and run from the TV, because someone might perish. Chara is a modern-day Kjell Samuelsson, only three feet bigger – whoops, I mean three inches bigger. And Chara is more skilled than the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Samuelsson, who appeared in one all-star game compared to Chara’s five.
David Backes, Blues
REPORTER: “Did you hear that (rival player Joe Schmoe) got into a car accident?”
OLD-SCHOOLER: “Is the car OK?”
Today’s version of this old-schooler is Backes, who took a swing toward Sidney Crosby’s head on Nov. 24, just two days into The Kid’s return. Hey, we don’t want Crosby out of action. Nor do we want him taking a shot to the head. But Backes’ punch toward Crosby is legendary for old-school purposes. “Superstar? Concussion? I don’t care, you’re fair game.”
Milan Lucic, Bruins
He’s the genetic cross of Fred Flintstone and Biff from Back to the Future. Lucic bears a resemblance to Twinkletoes (Flintstone’s bowling nickname), and his opponents scurry their feet in fear when he roams the rink. And, just like Biff, you must respect Lucic’s bullying nature (ask everyone in a Sabres uniform).Terry O’Reilly – bar none the biggest bad ass ever to play in Boston – once said Lucic is his favorite player. When the Tasmanian Devil cracks a beverage and watches your game, that’s officially old-school status.
Shea Weber, Predators
He’s the son of a sawmill worker who displays a rugged, blue-collar tenacity every shift. Ask Patrik Berglund how Weber’s hitting feels. Ask Ryan Kesler how Weber’s punches feel. Heck, ask the net how Weber’s slapshot feels. Remember the 2010 Olympics? That’s when Weber teed up from the blue line and rocketed a puck past German goalie Thomas Greiss, through the netting, and into old-school certification.
Jarome Iginla, Flames
He’s the model of hard-nosed hockey. Perhaps the perfect player. If the NHL had 980 Jarome Iginlas, the league would demand off-the-chart ticket sales. It would make Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban engage in a billionaire fight over the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes.OK, maybe not. But Iginla’s as good as it gets. Think about it: How many 500-goal scorers can punch with both hands? That’s Gordie-Howe esque!Iginla dropped the gloves three times during the Flames’ 2004 run to the Cup finals. That’s more fights in one postseason than most skilled players have in a career.
His ancestors must’ve been the founding fathers of hockey fighting. His IQ is off the charts: He’s crafty enough to maneuver, duck and hold his distance, and he’s strong enough to outslug the best of the best.Oh, he has 15 goals this season, too. That’s old-school beauty.
Clowe is a one-man wrecking crew who creates a gigantic mismatch for whomever he’s paired against. He’s the prototypical menace come playoff time, a thorn in the proverbial side of anyone who crosses his skating path.And he produces, as evidenced by 25 points in his past 32 playoff games.
There wasn’t a dry eye in Vancouver when the Canucks dropped Game 7 to Boston. No, there were two dry eyes, and they belonged to Kevin Bieksa, who probably punished himself by eating Reebok sticks.If the Sedin twins can find each other on the ice with their telepathic abilities, then Bieksa can find anyone who messes with the Sedin twins. Touch them, and you’ll flirt with death.
Jimmy Howard, Red Wings
He was cemented into old-school lore the moment he face-washed the Face of the Game (Sidney Crosby). Howard once said he “doesn’t take any crap” on the ice. Joe Pavelski learned this lesson after his May snowshower. Then, last month, it was Jannik Hansen’s turn for a Jimmy schooling.
So there it is. The list could’ve been deeper, but a select few listed below showed their true colors and suffered expulsions.
Scott Hartnell, Flyers
Old School once was written in bold letters underneath his shaggy, neanderthal beard. Now those words aren’t there.Shave the beard and see for yourself, because ever since Kris Letang left the ice with teeth marks across his finger, Hartnell’s entrance into old-school status was terminated. The Top 10 doesn’t accept alleged “biters.”
Ryan Kesler, Canucks
The teary-eyed image of Kesler wailing on national television duringBoston’s triumphant celebration last June stamped his expulsion. (Somewhere, Stevie Wonder is singing, “Signed, sealed, delivered, old-school is not yours, cry baby.”)
Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks
On the opening faceoff of a playoff game, Joe Thornton challenged Getzlaf to fight in April of 2009, then dominated. If you’re pummeled by the softest big man in the game, you’re expelled. Getzlaf was challenged, teased, then whupped – on his home rink, no less.
Corey Perry, Ducks
He was placed on indefinite suspension when choosing to fight Pavel Datsyuk. The sad thing is, despite being the odds-on favorite, Perry tussled Datsyuk to a draw. Heck, Perry didn’t even land a clear-cut punch. That’s pathetic.Since then, we haven’t seen enough quality fights, and then Perry decided to slash the lower body of Keith Ballard. That forced us to write an expulsion.
Every player. The reason? For not responding to Milan Lucic’s bulldozing of Ryan Miller.