Tag: pests

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Ryane Clowe: the NHL’s most functional fighter?


For better or worse, fighting is a part of hockey. It entertains fans and also allows teams to “police” the game. Yet while it’s true that few people stay in their seat for a fight, it’s a shame that so many enforcers don’t leave their seats on the bench until it’s time to march off to a boxing match on ice.

With that in mind, it seemed worthwhile to see if there are semi-regular fighters who can actually play. I put together a short list of the league’s best “mini-enforcers”: players who were involved in at least 10 fights per season in 2010-11 and 2009-10 but still managed to bring a nice offensive boost to the table. (Fight totals via Hockey Fights.com.)

Ryane Clowe: 12 fights and 62 points in 2010-11; 11 fights and 57 points in 2009-10.
Steve Ott: 10 fights and 32 points in 10-11; 11 fights and 36 points in 09-10.
Brandon Prust: 18 fights and 29 points in 10-11; 25 fights and 14 points in 09-10.
Chris Neil: 12 fights and 16 points in 10-11; 13 fights and 22 points in 09-10

Other noteworthy players

Defenseman Theo Peckham is a little newer to the NHL, but he averaged more 18 minutes per game and engaged in 10 fights last season. Steve Downie and Milan Lucic aren’t usually in the 10 fight range, but they’re willing to drop the gloves and have much higher ceilings as scorers than anyone but Clowe. Zenon Konopka can do one thing beyond fighting: win faceoffs. Derek Dorsett might be worthy of an “honorable mention” alongside Neil as guys who fight a lot but can sprinkle in a bit more offense than usual.


When you look at that list, it seems like most of the players can be labeled as pests who fight a bit more than usual or enforcers who get a light amount of points. Clowe stands out in that group, though. He fought the likes of Paul Bissonnette and Jared Boll last season, but also showed how much of an impact he could make while playing focused hockey by scoring 15 points in 17 playoff contests in 2011.

Perhaps there’s a current player who provides an even better combination of fighting ability and on-ice usefulness, but if there’s only one player that future “mini-enforcers” could be modeled after, it might just be Clowe.

Rangers waive Sean Avery; John Tortorella gives brutally honest explanation

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers

There was a time when Sean Avery was a nice little “steal” for the New York Rangers, even if that had a lot to do with the fact that he came with a 50 percent off tag via the Dallas Stars’ faulty contract. In late September, speculation really began to bubble up that the polarizing pest’s slide down the Rangers totem pole has become so pronounced that he won’t even be on the big club this season.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that those rumors turned out to be true: the team decided to waive Avery today. Brooks indicates that this should be far from a surprise, claiming that the Rangers basically made that decision before he boarded the team plane for their trip to Europe. He also speculates as to whether or not the team will risk absorbing his prorated cap hit by bringing him back up through re-entry waivers at some point this season.

It’s hard to foresee what exactly is in store for Avery, who lost a battle for a final spot with shiftier forward Erik Christensen. For years, hockey pundits have been quick to paste the ” … but nonetheless talented,” label on Avery while discussing his latest controversial comment or blunder. He’s never really harnessed those talents for enough good to offset the headaches he causes for his own team, though, and at 31 years old one cannot wonder if he’s running out of chances. (Avery’s contract will expire after this season.)

That’s not to say that this is the end of the line for Avery, however. Still, one cannot help but feel that Avery already reached his pest peak and that “Sloppy seconds” and the Martin Brodeur windshield wiper incident will dominate the first lines of his career’s obituary.

We’ll see what happens with Avery, whether he gets claimed by one of the league’s other 29 teams (through initial waivers or the re-entry process) or possibly works his way back up to the Rangers’ NHL roster. This certainly marks one of the lowest points of a very up and down career for Avery, though.

Update (5 p.m. ET): Tortorella is known as a straight-shooter, but even so, his comments about Avery’s demotion were surprisingly candid.

“I think we have better players than Sean Avery — plain and simple,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday. “I can dodge it 10 different ways without trying to run Sean over. I thought he had a good camp.

“But I think with the makeup of our team, and some of the people we’ve added, and some of the youth we’ve added as far as depth put Sean in this spot.”

Brett Hextall: Like father, like son

NCAA Men's Frozen Four - Michigan Wolverines v North Dakota Fighting Sioux

Take a look at the name stitched across his back, and fans see a familiar name that makes them wonder about his bloodlines. Take a look at the competitive style on the ice and he removes all doubt. The NHL may want to brace itself. There’s another Hextall coming down the road—and he’s just like all of the Hextalls that came before him.

Phoenix Coyotes prospect Brett Hextall signed a pro contract this April and will be wreaking havoc all over the Coyotes training camp this week. He spent two seasons with Junior A Penticton before moving on to the University of North Dakota.

“Yeah, [the chippiness] probably my strongest point—at least when I’m playing my most effective,” Hextall explained. “I’m really getting under people’s skin just because I’m a pest. Like a Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, or someone like that. If I can be a relentless guy, [play] in-your-face, winning pucks, and just getting under people’s skin because I’m always around, always there, and always getting a piece of them. That’s definitely when I’m at my best.”

That’s right. A Hextall just said that he’s at his best when he’s playing like Matt Cooke. Not surprisingly, it’s something he’s learned from his family. He’s known from the start what it would take to be a good hockey player.

“I got that ‘mentality’ from my Grandpa and my Dad and hearing their stories,” the 5’10” forward shared. “You play the game hard with everything you’ve got. That’s the only way I’ve ever known. I’m definitely not going to ‘wow’ anyone with my skill, but if I can play a really hard, up-and-down game, that’s when I’m at my best.”

He’s right—when he’s playing with an edge, he’s an unmistakable force on the ice. But he’s selling himself short when he says he won’t “wow” anyone out on the ice. He’s an incredibly fast skater with above average hands that are good for more than just fighting. He racked up 72 points in his final season with Penticton in “one of the best years of his life,” and then managed double-digit goals in each of his three seasons with the University of North Dakota.

Some people might be surprised that the younger Hextall didn’t follow his father’s lead into the net. But what younger fans may not realize, is that Ron isn’t the only former NHLer with the Hextall surname. In fact, Brett is looking to become the second-ever 4th generation NHL player. His great-grandfather Bryan had a Hall of Fame career for the New York Rangers. His grandfather (Bryan, Jr.) and great-uncle (Dennis) also had long careers in the NHL. All of the family made it to the NHL as skaters; it wasn’t until Ron played goal that the family made a name with a netminder. Brett told ProHockeyTalk.com that he tried on the mask and pads when he was younger—but it wasn’t for him.

“My Dad just told me, ‘Just keep playing forward, learn how to skate, and then we’ll go from there.’ I eventually never really feel in love with [goaltending]. I like being a forward, it never stuck.”

Finding a position isn’t the only advice Ron dispensed to his son, as he tried to find his career path. Ron, the current assistant GM of the Los Angeles Kings, encouraged Brett to go the college route to serve as a back-up plan if his hockey career didn’t pan out.

The youngest Hextall says going to college was always his plan. “I definitely wanted to play college growing up. My Dad played major junior and he told me, if he didn’t play in the NHL, he’s not sure where his life would have led. He definitely encouraged me to take the college route and it’s worked out pretty well.

Like so many other hockey players, there was a bit of luck that was involved when the Coyotes selected him with their 6th round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. Assistant GM Brad Treliving revealed that the organization was in Penticton to scout a better known prospect (Zac Dalpe).

“It’s funny, when we drafted him… I remember coming out of that game and saying, ‘who’s this kid?’ He was causing a riot it seemed every shift. So we took him with the thought that he’s a competitive kid, obviously he had great bloodlines.”

Needless to say, those within the Coyotes management are intrigued with the type of player they’ve landed.

“I think his game translates to a 3rd line kind of guy,” explained Treliving. “But he can play with good players. One thing about Brett is that he has ‘hockey intelligence.’ I watched him a lot at North Dakota and he plays with a lot of energy and he can get in and forecheck; but he puts the puck in the right spot, he supports the puck well. He knows how to play the game—he’s a smart player. All of those things [type of role] will weed themselves out in training camp, but I think he’s a guy who can play in a checking, energy type role. But I wouldn’t discount him and say he not a guy who can play with good players.”

But as people keep picking apart his game and analyzing his potential, Treliving was able to pay him the biggest compliment without even trying. “He’s definitely a Hextall,” Treliving said with a laugh.

Does that mean we can expect him to attack future Hall of Famers in the future? “I might have to!” the younger Hextall said with a grin. “I have to get a few YouTube videos just to match-up [with my Dad].”

Yeah, it’s doubtful the rest of the league will be a laughing when he’s showing the rest of the league exactly what “being a Hextall” means.

Brad Marchand finds right balance between agitation and offense

Keith Ballard;  Brad Marchand

When people discuss pests or agitators, most of those players count as “double-edged swords” for their teams.

Just look at the roller coaster career of New York Rangers nuisance Sean Avery, the most notorious character for reasons that rarely have much to do with his on-ice play. Avery’s big mouth and nefarious attitude often find him in the penalty box and sometimes provides competition with unwanted motivation. That being said, he can also be an impact player when his head is on straight and the bounces go his way.

The problem is, when you take that pestering aspect out of Avery’s game, he seems like a cat without claws. Simply put, he hasn’t found the proper balance between annoyance and productivity.

The 2011 Stanley Cup finals feature some of the league’s greatest examples of how to strike the right compromise. Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows might be infuriating at times, but they frequently benefit the Vancouver Canucks without taking a whole lot from the table.

Of course, those two Canucks skaters have had plenty of time to iron out the kinks in their pestering games. Boston Bruins’ pest Brad Marchand might be the most impressive example in this series; he’s already excelling at walking that difficult tight rope even though this is his rookie year in the NHL.

Sure, he’s had his regrettable moments like any other player of his ilk. Late in the regular season, he motivated the Toronto Maple Leafs with an immature (if ultimately correct) golf swing motion that ultimately backfired when the Leafs came back. He also had a less than great moment in Game 4 against Vancouver.

One of those things happened as he was skating away from the melee late in Game 4. As he coasted past the Vancouver bench with an official serving as a guide, Marchand wiped his hands in an exaggerated fashion — not a taunt with which the Canucks players found much pleasure.

“That’s something I shouldn’t have done,” Marchand said. “It was a little childish. They were yelling at me from the bench and that was just how I reacted. I kind of wish I didn’t do it.”

That being said, the motion didn’t light a fire in the dejected Canucks nor did it earn Marchand a trip to the penalty box. Perhaps riding that line involves a bit of luck, but it doesn’t hurt when you’re a legitimate NHL player. Marchand boldly claimed he would score 20 goals this season and seemed like he would be far off that pace with five goals midway through the season. Bruins coach Claude Julien reminded him of his claim and perhaps that pumped him up because he scored 16 in his last 39 games to hit 21 for the regular season.

He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs, either. A great Game 4 performance propelled him into the scoring lead among postseason rookies, with his 15 points giving him a one-point edge on San Jose Sharks standout Logan Couture.

If you told the Bruins a rookie would be a key facet to their playoff run, they’d probably expect it to be Tyler Seguin. Yet while Seguin struggles to earn Julien’s trust and score with regularity, Marchand has become a fixture on the Bruins’ solid second line. His teammates have taken notice, too.

Marchand has already tied the rookie record for most goals by a Boston player in one playoff year; one more goal would move him into the top 20 in franchise history for a single postseason.

“He’s not a pest to his teammates, that’s for sure,” goaltender Tim Thomas said. “I think he’s a great player who brings energy and effort every night, basically — and that helps the team. The last two games, Game 3 and Game 4, he had huge goals for us, beautiful goals for us that were skill goals. On top of that energy and effort that he brings every night, he has skill.”

Despite all of these positive thoughts, Marchand is still working to harness his game. That means there will be steps forward and backward as his career marches on. We’ll see if he – and his team – take another step in the right direction in Game 5 tonight.

Video: Ryan Kesler matures and takes his game to a higher level

Canucks Hockey

It’s not exactly as if Ryan Kesler was totally anonymous coming into this season. Kesler really put himself on the hockey map last season when he starred for the U.S. Olympic team (scoring one of the best empty-net goals one can accomplish) and putting up a career-high 75 points.

That being said, the hockey world truly cannot afford to ignore him after he put together an epic set of performances against the Nashville Predators in Round 2. Kesler scored 11 points in that six-game series, averaging almost two points per contest. He didn’t abandon his rugged defensive play and really hammed it up in Nashville, becoming a true villain for a franchise that hasn’t had many notorious foes in their still-brief history.

It’s a bit much to say that Kesler has gone silent in the last few seasons, but as this video shows, the American forward often got carried away with “chirping” early in his career. He’s found a much better compromise between agitation and focus lately, a change of pace that opened things up for him to progress his game substantially.

The Versus video illustrates that transformation, including commentary from Kesler, teammate Daniel Sedin and coach Alain Vigneault.

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