The hockey world has become much more sensitive to the manner in which hits get dolled out over the past few seasons, but we should try to remember there’s two sides to every slam.
This goes beyond the basics of always glancing over both shoulders if you’re a defenseman heading into the corner or not turning your back to an oncoming checker if you’re standing two feet from the boards.
That stuff should all be second nature to a high-level hockey player. But more than that, there’s something to be said for the art of absorption – the ability to minimize impact without completely dodging a hit.
To put it in another context, think of the difference between an NFL running back who tries to run over every potential tackler, versus a shifty back who spins off hits and tears down field.
Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown is getting an education in how to elude big contact from new teammate Ryan Smyth. Brown is a bulldog if ever there was one, the kind of player who takes direct routes to every loose puck. While you never want to temper that trait in a bump-‘n’-grinder like Brown, the 25-year-old said he’s definitely seen the upside of Smyth’s more slippery approach.
“He’s almost like a rubber band,” Brown said. “He absorbs hits very well, something I could definitely improve on in my game. I’m more of a physical, try to reverse-hit guys; he’ll just kind of take the hit and spin off. A lot of the time that’s how he gets free.”
That approach can also help keep a player healthy, especially if you happen to give up a few inches to most bruising blueliners as Brown does.
Early in the year there was a lot of talk about how much Smyth, a first-year King, was helping center Anze Kopitar take his career to the next level before the former was forced out with an upper-body injury (can’t avoid ’em all) in November.
These days, Smyth is lining up beside Brown with old Edmonton Oilers teammate Jarret Stoll in the middle. The trio has found some chemistry as Brown, whose numbers weren’t quite where you’d expect, has picked it up of late with seven points in his past eight games. Smyth, meanwhile, has 15 goals in 37 games this season, which would project to a 33-goal year had he not been sidelined for 15 contents.
Brown, who will wear an ‘A’ for Team USA at the Olympics, said he’s happy to soak up what he can from Captain Canada.
“His hands around the net are world class, it’s one of those things where you can pick up a few little things he does really well,” Brown noted. “Obviously he brings an offensive threat to our team.”
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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