I’ve often been asked in interviews (the rare few I’ve done) of who are the players I look up-to. It is always a difficult one to answer, and usually my stock answer has been Jari Kurri, as he was the player I looked up to growing up.
Of late and the more my style of play has evolved and developed there are a number of players whose style I admire and try to model myself after. Yes, I still admire and take inspiration from the likes of Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis and so on. But if I was asked which player most personifies the type of player that I would like to see myself as, I can now give a more defined answer.
As my style of play is team centric and (of-late) on the energy side, I take my ques from players like Jarkko Ruutu, Leo Komarov, Ville Nieminen, Scott Hartnell, Dale Weise and so on. You could say that the players I try to model myself after are more on the ‘blue-collar’ side of things and where they might not be the real superstars of the game, they are the types that are often the unsung heroes and the underdogs on a team.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love scoring goals. Who doesn’t, but I have identified that I liken myself more to the likes of Ruutu and Komarov. Ruutu may have been considered a pest during his career, but I have nothing but respect for him and his work ethic. Here’s a guy that put everything on the line for his dream to play in the pros and did everything in his power every night to help his team win. He battled adversity and mentally tough battles of low ice time for years. Not only do I admire Jarkko Ruutu’s mental toughness, but he is a very, VERY smart guy and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he became involved in hockey in a coaching or front office capacity. He is a hockey-smart guy who was able to read the flow of the game maybe better than anyone else. Maybe it was because of his reputation in the rink that he had to be aware of who was out there with him and who was likely to take his head off.
I mostly watched Ruutu and Komarov in the Finnish national team and the games I’ve watched them play in the NHL were/are entertaining. Both players always put their bodies on the line and try to help their teams win. OK I’m not as physical as Ruutu and neither do I fight (my career stats are 0-3 for fights) but what I do look to bring to the game is my everything. Every game I suit up for and every shift I play, I give 100% and try and do the things that help out my team. I take great pride in creating offensive buzz but at the same time I’m equally pleased if my line doesn’t get scored on. If it means that I have to play a shadow to a player all night or that I hustle up and down the ice a few times, that is fine by me. As long as my presence and my actions on the ice help contribute to a greater cause.
Yes, I would love to put up points and to a greater extent I try to do that every time I’m out there, but sometimes you end up just creating the pressure and other lines capitalise on it, or you end up bagging yourself trying to get the puck out of your zone on a PK, but y’know what, there’s a certain romanticism in that. In both situations, I can look at it and say “we were able to do that because of what my line did” and give myself (and linemates) a pat on the back and then it’s focussing on the next shift.
You might say that guys like Ruutu, Komarov, Hartnell etc aren’t the most skilled players on the planet, but one thing you can’t put a measure on is heart. To me guys like that so important to a team because of the work ethic and work they do on the ice.
It’s easy to say that you look up to guys like Ovechkin, Crosby, McKinnon etc. They are superstars and super skilled. Yes they all do have heart, but for me, I find that there’s more intrigue and so many nuances to the likes of Hartnell and what they bring to the table with their skill set. It’s guys like that who enable the work that the superstars do.
So to answer the question of what player I look up to and if I could have the skill set of any player who would it be? A) I think Leo Komarov tops the list of active players and B) If I could have the combined skill set of the Habs’ line of Weise – Desharnais – Fleischman, I would be over the moon with that.