ST. LOUIS - What makes an elite athlete tick? And what sets apart the best in the world from those who are just pretty good? In hockey, we’re always putting superstars under the microscope in an attempt to figure out how Connor McDavid became Connor McDavid, or why Sidney Crosby is one of the greatest ever.
But who do hockey’s best players admire? Specifically, which players do they like to watch in other sports? That’s the question I posed to a bunch of top NHLers at All-Star Weekend’s media day and in my small, random sample, tennis icon Roger Federer was the runaway winner. But before we get to ‘Feds,’ let’s start off with some of the other answers.
NFL players got some love, starting with a certain New England Patriots quarterback.
“Tom Brady,” said Dallas’ Tyler Seguin. “A champion through and through and he has that hunger to continuously do it. I’d like to hang around with him and see how he is so consistent and what makes him tick.”
Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny didn’t have a specific player in mind, but did have a very interesting take on the way his mindset has changed over the years.
“I’m a hunting and fishing outdoorsman, that’s my thing,” he said. “When I was a kid I wasn’t glued to the TV, but now that I’ve grown up and watched a lot of sports and documentaries, I think a lot of football players are great athletes. And there’s a lot more to playing the game, all the mental preparation, all these things I’ve been watching that I find pretty interesting.”
Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin related to another football player for a couple reasons, one being a shared belief in Christianity. “Tim Tebow,” he said. “Because of his faith and how bold he is in what he stands for. And his work ethic that he put towards the game of football was awesome to watch. And how much pride he took in having a good work ethic.”
Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes takes interest in stars from football and basketball.
“Tom Brady, he’s such a great player,” Hughes said. “LeBron, Kevin Durant, too. KD’s mind for the game - if you ever listen to his interviews, he’ll break down stuff. I don’t really agree with all the stuff he does on Twitter, but if you listen to his interviews, he makes tremendous points. It shows his basketball IQ is probably the highest.”
Stars from the other kind of football got love too. I really liked what Tomas Hertl of San Jose had to say on the subject.
“I have two,” he said. “From soccer, I have always followed Cristiano Ronaldo. My brother gave me a signed jersey as a wedding present so that was really exciting. In tennis, it’s Roger Federer. I’ve read both of their books and really follow them, even now. Especially Ronaldo, he has been working all his life. Everybody thinks it’s just talent, but every coach says he works his butt off every day. They see him every day, extra hours in the gym. It wasn’t just him showing up and being the best, he worked all his life and he is still working to be the best. What he has accomplished is amazing.”
Vancouver’s Jakob Markstrom was much more blunt.
“Zlatan Ibrahimovich. (And what do you like about him?) Everything, everything.”
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon has been following a much rougher pastime lately, as Conor MacGregor is someone he loves watching.
“I’m a big UFC fan,” he said. “I was pumped to see that fight, I’m pumped for Khabib (Nurmagomedov) and Tony Ferguson - I admire all those guys. I think that sport is pretty cool.”
OK, now let’s get on to Federer. Hertl already mentioned him, but a lot of other players had thoughts on the tennis master. Here’s what they had to say:
Roman Josi, Nashville: “He’s the best ever - don’t question me on that! The way he behaves; with all the success he has had, he’s still a humble person. I’ve got to meet him a couple times and that was definitely something that impressed me.”
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg: “You watch him play the game and he almost floats on air. And his track record speaks for itself. He’s probably my No. 1.”
Mark Giordano, Calgary: “I’ve always loved him, always followed his career. How he carries himself with class is great. He’s one of the best champions ever in the history of sport in what he has accomplished. I really like watching him for sure.”
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida: “His poise on the court is unbelievable. He never has too many reactions; no ups or downs. He’s always in the same rhythm and I like that kind of player.”
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh: “I really like (Rafael) Nadal and Federer. Tennis is a big game for stamina and being able to track the ball as well as they do and that’s something I admire.”
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