Collector's Corner: Intimidators
This edition of the Collector's Corner was written by Dave McCormick, an avid jersey collector and top contributor to the CoolHockey Blog!
An ongoing topic among my jersey collecting friends continues to be the fun conversation of why we pick certain jerseys to add to our collections. The National Hockey League has clearly shifted its focus to young players who are undoubtedly more skilled and faster than ever. Sure, the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk likes the rough stuff but he’s much more likely (and much more valuable to his team) to score that highlight-of-the-night stick-between-the-legs OT goal from the slot versus Nashville than drop the mitts with his arch-enemy, Drew Doughty.
In fact, the most intimidating sight for any NHL defenseman is no longer a big, bruising forward lumbering down the wing to finish a check as they retrieve a dumped-in puck but it’s the speed and flash of Connor McDavid’s orange and blue uniform as he blows by them that creates nightmares before a game day. So much of the league has changed. Calling it “The ‘Chel,” as many of this generation do, is hardly intimidating. Pucks are no longer dumped in. At most, they are “chipped and chased.” Yes, speed and skill are fun to watch. Today’s young superstars have a certain swagger that makes them easy to cheer for or against (depending on your allegiances). But when it can be argued that the most intimidating person (?) to wear a Flyers uniform is no longer a guy like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz but Gritty, then I start to reminisce about the era I grew up watching and the intimidators whose jerseys we collect.
Please save your chirps about “old school hockey dinosaur” and Don Cherry at least until the end of this blog and let me share some of the most fearsome players in their beautifully collective jerseys from a former era in the evolution of our great game.
There’s not much scarier than an enraged tiger. So, number one on this list is Dave “Tiger” Williams wearing the Canucks “Flying V” jersey. Don’t let the uniform’s nickname fool you. There wasn’t a whole lot of flying around the ice to beat you with speed and skill on those early 80s Canucks teams. With guys like Tiger, Kevin McCarthy, Curt Fraser, Stan Smyl and Harold Snepsts (whose ‘stache alone would win any battle along the boards) those Halloween-coloured uniforms must’ve given opposing players nightmares as if the old Pacific Coliseum was on Elm Street instead of Renfrew!
No paragraph about feared Vancouver Canucks would be complete without mentioning the best friend of the Canucks most skilled and exciting player ever, Pavel Bure. This man was fondly remembered as GINO, GINO, GINO! Gino Odjick made his NHL debut wearing #66 1. So, viewers of that game versus Chicago may have thought…”hmm…the Canucks have a guy with Mario Lemieux skills? Who is this guy?” Well, despite this photo of him with a great scoring chance, he will be most remembered as a fearless, loyal “policeman” for the Canucks. In fact, he took on two other most fearsomely famous players of the era in this very same debut game: Dave “Charlie” Manson and Stu “Grim Reaper” Grimson!
 The story goes that Gino was a huge Mario Lemieux fan growing up so he asked the team to wear #66 but after the NHL saw what kind of player he was, and in reverence to “Le Magnifique” the league office called the club to have Odjick’s number changed. This may have been an early signal of how the league would soon enough change to celebrate more-skill over muscle.
Not all intimidators sent a message by dropping the mitts. Others possessed the skills to take advantage of simple physics. By applying the formula of Force = Mass x Acceleration, Scott Stevens delivered the most devastating body checks the league has ever seen. Bedeviling (pun intended) for many opposing players this Hall of Famer had an amazing knack of making body contact in open ice at the exact millisecond where their acceleration and change of direction was enough of a moment to lose focus of their surroundings, and, unfortunately, often consciousness.
As the game changes, there are fewer players in the league today who perform the role similar to what we saw before. Maybe a Matt Martin falls in this category of “old-time hockey” players.
Or Tom Wilson?
While Wilson has often been called dirty for some of his hits, they wouldn’t be uncommon, and often seen as “borderline clean” in the 80s and 90s. Whether fewer of these types of players is good or not is debatable. Though, I certainly wouldn’t debate against increased player safety.
For a guy like Wilson who, as of writing this, has double the amount of PIMS (948) than career NHL games played (469) there’s no denying that he can flat out skate and contribute to the points tally side of the scoresheet with 40 points in 63 games last season and 10 already through the first 15 games of this season. Perhaps he’s proof that even “dinosaurs” can evolve for today’s NHL.
I don’t mean to romanticize the era of hockey that emphasized brute physicality (nor am I saying it is gone entirely from today’s game). We all know many of the sad consequences of taking repeated blows, not to mention the mental strain of knowing that’s what you had to do, game in and game out, to stay in the league. However, when people ask why I, and others, have such jerseys as Snepsts and Stevens, its because we understand that these were all men who were proud of their roles to protect their teammates and keep a certain kind of honour in the game that was valued during the times they played. And, before anyone dismisses them as hockey players, keep in mind that they were paid to play in the league and we paid to watch them play. Their roles contributed to the ability of the skilled players of their times being able to do what they do best, become Hall of Famers (if they didn’t themselves like Scott Stevens) and become synonymous with the league and sport itself – just ask the Great One about how much he appreciated playing with the late, Dave Semenko!
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