For our Nov. 3 Issue, We polled NHLers and hockey insiders to find out who are the NHL’s scariest in various modes of the game. When it came to punching and hitting, two men quickly rose to the fore.
SCARIEST FIGHTER: Calgary’s Brian McGrattan isn’t just the best fighter in the NHL. He’s quickly becoming a parent pugilist.
Last season, during his tilt against strong up-and-comer Luke Gazdic of Edmonton, the Flames enforcer handed his Oilers counterpart a heavy dose of fists before giving him a congratulatory pat on the side of the head once the officials stepped in. Similarly, McGrattan took on Dylan McIlrath in what was no doubt a big deal for the 21-year-old New York Rangers rookie.
McGrattan bloodied the 6-foot-5, 220-pound youngster (whose nickname in junior was ‘The Undertaker’) but then gave him some words of encouragement as they were broken apart. It’s rare to see someone smiling and bleeding simultaneously the way McIlrath was.
But make no mistake: taking on McGrattan isn’t for the faint of heart.
“He’s obviously one of the toughest,” said former Nashville teammate Shea Weber. “And he enjoys his job, which makes him a little scarier.”
At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, McGrattan, 33, has the size and the punching prowess to live up to his billing as the top heavyweight. He often starts fights in a bent-over stance, his eyes scanning the opponent for weakness. And once the festivities kick off, he’s throwing bombs or countering with short jabs as he holds onto the scruff of his enemy’s collar. If he sees an opening, McGrattan goes overtop in a flurry, as if he’s trying to get better reception on an old TV set.
No matter how he does it, the melee usually ends with McGrattan standing and his opponent on the ice or saved by the refs. Either way, it’s another victory for the big guy in red.
SCARIEST OPEN-ICE HITTER:Niklas Kronwall has made a living blowing up guys in open ice and along the boards. Although his Red Wings have been known more for finesse than brute force, the Swedish rearguard remains a constant threat to toss opponents upside-down when he’s patrolling the ice.
“He’s definitely a guy you have to be aware of,” said Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk. “I’ve been out there when some guys have been crunched by him down the wall, throwing that hip check out.”
Ah yes, the hip check. It’s almost a lost art these days, but Kronwall is keeping the tradition alive. And if it’s not his hip, it’s his full body, propelled into an unsuspecting player – usually one trying to rush the puck out of the defensive zone. Martin Havlat, Ryan Kesler, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Malone are just a few of the unlucky players to have been “Kronwalled” over the years.
The most terrifying part? Kronwall still remains a responsible defenseman in the process.
“It’s the way he reads the play,” van Riemsdyk said. “He doesn’t hit and then get beat down the ice. He knows when to do it. He’s a smart player and he plays hard, so you have to be ready.”
But when the accelerated mass of Kronwall comes hurtling towards you with a split second’s notice, how ready can you ever really be?