High Tide Hockey: How Do I Love the Pest? Let Me Count the Ways

Hat trick? Yes please. (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)

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"I took the part of the villain because everyone remembers the villain." David Prowse on playing Darth Vader over Chewbacca

Ignoring fan loyalties, who do you expect most people’s favorite active NHL players would be? The list probably looks something like this: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, and so on. A list of the current hockey heroes.

Me? Sean Avery, Chris Pronger, Corey Perry, Tim Jackman, Adam Burish, Steve Ott, and so on. The heels, the villains, the pests. These are the players that make the game worth watching. These guys make it fun and so much more than "just a hockey game".

It’s easy to write off pests and goons as one and the same, but that really doesn’t give enough credit to the pest and gives far too much credit to goons. The word "villain" implies the bad guy in a narrative. A character, if you will. Goons step beyond the role within the game of hockey. They take actions that could cause significant damage to a player outside the game. See: Matt Cooke, Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Simon.

No, a villain doesn’t stoop to that level. There might be reckless plays, but sadly we see those from all NHL players these days, regardless of reputation. Remember Chara on Pacioretty? Crosby’s donkeypunch? Ovechkin’s slew foot?

Cheap shots have little to do with being an NHL villain. No, what defines the villain is something else. It’s the grinding. The yapping. The talking shit to the other players every single faceoff. Not being afraid to get in someone’s face and then skate off laughing when they drop their gloves. The way they just annoy an opponent until the opponent does something stupid. And that’s my favorite thing in the world.

Maybe it says a lot about me, but I thoroughly enjoy that play. It’s mental. It’s physical. It’s puckish.

One of my favorite hockey moments in history was game three of the 1st round matchup between the Devils and Rangers. Why? Because that was the game that spurred the invention of the Sean Avery rule: Sean Avery, while screening Martin Brodeur, turned and faced him while waving his stick in front of "Fatso’s" face. It was brilliant. Genius. Amazing. And completely aggravating for the Devils goalie. So much so, that at the end of the series, Martin Brodeur refused to shake Avery’s hand.

Another great moment in hockey pest-age? Chris Pronger stealing Stanley Cup pucks in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Nobody’s really sure why he did it, but the outrage it caused among the Chicago players and Chicago fans was thoroughly amazing.

These are the moments that make sports great. The annoying, the aggravating, the irritating. Maybe it’s because I play the same way in sports. Maybe it’s because I like seeing the sports-are-morality crew have their noses rubbed in it, but NHL pests and villains make the game great.

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·         The Flames may have been eliminated last night, but beating Edmonton in that fashion? Completely awesome. Hat trick for Iginla? More awesome.

·         Speaking of Iginla; we’ve already celebrated 1000 points, but how about 4x40? Pretty amazing, especially given the era and teams he played on.

·         Loved Corey Perry getting the hat trick for 50 last night. Guy has my worthless Hart vote. Not that he didn’t before; Daniel Sedin is vastly overrated.

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·         More headshots? Yeah. This is getting ugly.

·         So here’s to two years sans playoffs…ugh

·         I can’t believe people are talking up Ray Emery for the Masterton. The guy literally beat up his trainer in Russia; that’s not "dedication to the game of hockey" no matter what injury he comes back from.

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I’ve tweeted this several times, but I’m still amazed by how well spoken Holland was in our interview. The full thing will be up tomorrow, but I briefly want to touch on why that’s important. Any guy can have raw skills or talent, but it takes a smart player, an intelligent player, to make the transition to the pro-game. Those are the guys who know what it takes, what they need to work on, and how to stay humble.

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GUESS IT’S TIME FOR A BEER, RIGHT BRAH?

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