From Zero To Hero: How NHL Fans Determine The Likability Of A Player

The National Hockey League is filled with players who are beloved and some who are hated (depending on who you ask). NHL fans from all over the world have grown to admire a lot of the studs who have played this game throughout the ages. A game that some would not hesitate to call the greatest on ice. While others may love watching baseball or basketball, hockey fans find their peace in a nice deke or a sweet celly from their favourite hometown boy or a big open-ice hit from their team’s grizzled veteran.

For most, there is no clear cut method from separating their heroes from the zeroes. Some say it’s determined by fate. Others say it’s determined by a player’s will to win, their grit, their showmanship and so on.

Last Word On Hockey’s Christian Holmes wanted to know how fans picked their favourite players and the methods that lead them down this road, so he set out to find the answers.

How NHL Fans Determine The Likability Of A Player

Everybody has their opinions on players. For example, the star of Hockey Night In Canada’s Coach’s Corner, outspoken Don Cherry always liked to call Pavel Bure a “weasel” and often complained about his style of play. Now as time has passed, Mr. Bure is Cherry’s “favourite Russian”.

Cherry infamously called the Carolina Hurricanes a “bunch of jerks” when referring to their post-game celebrations, giving the ‘Canes their best marketing campaign in the team’s existence. That wasn’t the end of the story though…

If one could recall, after the dust settled, Cherry came to like the “bunch of jerks” and offered some kind words about “the whole thing”. After all, it was kind of ironic to hear a broadcaster who wears big and flashy suits every Saturday night, essentially wearing his colourful personality on his sleeves, who is also a lover of any hockey player that has that “to die for” trait (whatever that may be), would be against a hockey team showcasing some flair of its own for their loyal followers.

That said, not everything in life is made to be simple. Just ask Forrest Gump, comrades. As showcased in the examples above, as time passes and people grow, in most situations, we mature and sometimes gain wisdom.

With that in mind, the question that Last Word On Sports posed to its readers was: How you choose your favourite players? What factors do you look for?

We took the liberty of asking this question to people on the streets and on various online platforms, and these are the answers we received.

How do you choose?

Darian Hepner likes a player that has a colourful side to them. “Personality has to be a huge one for me. Heart, passion, skill set; it definitely helps when they play for my team(s)
For example, [Mitch] Marner is an amazing guy on and off the Ice. Lives the city [Toronto] and loves the fans. That’s he’s my second favourite player.”

Garrett Burchett never had a problem with a player who was willing to put it all out on the line. “Growing up my favourite player was Marian Gaborik. I remember watching him win the fastest skater at the All-Star competition. He was such an exciting and dangerous player every time he stepped on the ice. Zach Parise is also one of my favourite players. Character guy who gives 110% on every shift, isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas and pays the price to make a play.”

Lee Schabler has his way of picking players. NEWSFLASH, compadres, it’s all about character. “I pick players who play with heart and a no-quit attitude. They have to give 110% every game no matter their skill level they are competing in. I rather cheer for a bunch of unskilled players with heart rather than one skill player who floats around half the time!”

It’s all about the heart in a player, NHL fans say

These next few answers would make an old timer like Don Cherry or your grandfather proud. It’s not always about the skill of a person. Sometimes, it’s about heart and soul, and rock ’em, sock ’em toughness.

Ian Lutvak is all about the heart in a player. “I tend to put heart, toughness, loyalty and fan appreciation ahead of speed, skill, and talent. Of course, we wish every player on our team had all of them combined. However, that doesn’t happen. My favourite player growing up was Doug Gilmour because I believe he had the whole package.”

James Brown loves an unselfish player. “Heart, teammate loyalty, apparent leadership, grit and toughness, poise under pressure (they are the one you want to make the play happen when everything is on the line), selflessness, the right balance of confidence and being humble, and lastly skill all of these things are Wendel Clark.”

Scotty General echos the comments of Lutvak and Brown. “The heart and grit of a player. Skill wise, sure that’s good, but I’m a Bruins fan so I love players like Chara, Lucic, and Miller. They know they aren’t the fastest or most skilled players on the ice, but they give 110 % and more every night. I’m not including the top line of Boston because they have heart and grit but my favourite players are the ones who don’t have the big skill and put out the same energy as that top line.”

How does Last Word On Hockey’s writers answer this question?

The NHL fans had their say, but what about Last Word On Hockey’s (LWOH) writers? Let’s find out.

Managing editor and longtime LWOH master of words Daniel Brown had this to say about the traits he liked in his favourite players. “For me, regardless of the sport, it is about heart, integrity, and dedication to the team. If any of those are missing, forget about it. For instance, John Tavares for the Islanders. The guy played his heart out for the Islanders for years and left in a “bad” or weird way. His letter sucked and hurt us fans, but that does not diminish my appreciation of his efforts in an Islanders jersey. Another Islander fave is Mike Bossy for all of the reasons that I mentioned above.”

LWOH Columbus Blue Jackets writer Nic Hendrickson is all about the player’s style. “Play style and attitude. Hence why my two favourite Blue Jackets players are Boone Jenner and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Hard working, have a bit of a mean streak but don’t rely on it, talented, play for the team and are good teammates.”

LWOH editor and the co-host of the BeLeaf In The Magic Podcast Oscar Elieff doesn’t mind a little bit of arrogance in a player. “Obviously I don’t want them to jerks, but the biggest thing for me is a personality. As a hockey fan, everyone gives cookie cutter responses, so that’s why I really like guys like Ovi and Subban. Of course, a little bit of arrogance is good because it adds a little bit of entertainment, like a guy like Patrick Roy.”

What does the writer think?

Breaking the “fourth wall” for a minute, as I was gathering all these answers and responses to somewhat answer this question, a lot of people asked me my opinion on the subject. For those wondering, this is it:

As I wrote in my chapter of Everyday Hockey Heroes by TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie and sportswriter Jim Lang, I always liked the underdog. A player that someone like a Skip Bayless or Colin Cowherd would say does “not belong” in the NHL or in their case, the NBA. “Oh they can’t do this or they can’t do that,” an analyst might say. Yet, somehow, some way, that player is out there making a career for themselves playing gritty and being tough as nails. That’s why I’ve always like players like Tie Domi and such. They’re relatable because let’s be real, unless you’re flinging the dough and living the dream, you’re out there grinding and earning a living, fighting for every inch of it, just like Domi would do out on the ice.

Digging deeper

This thought experiment proved one thing: the vast majority of readers like qualities in players that relate back to themselves, which is rather interesting. Why is that so? What does this tell us about our society?

Another interesting thing about this exercise was the number of people that said they most admired a player like Jarome Iginla when answering this question. His name popped up a lot and his name specifically.

With all this being taken into account, a question that came up from this is: What psychological and sociological factors causes the masses to identify with such players? How can this be explained using scientific explanations?

In the search for answers, this series wages on. In a soon-to-be-released continuation of this series, Last Word On Sports will talk to a social scientist that will attempt to answer this very question and more.

Hopefully opening the door to some insightful conversation.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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