Thursday, December 28, 2006

Head of the Class


It’s a tough thing to define and an even tougher thing to find, particularly in professional sports. But we know it when we see it, and part of the reason I am a hockey fan is that the players as a group tend to exhibit more of the stuff than any other athletes. There are, of course, some who have more than others...and some who have none at all.

In the wake of recent events, both over the last few weeks and since the start of the season, I thought it would be fun to list those active players/coaches who I thought exemplified Class.

It’s even more fun to list those who don’t, but I’ll save that for a follow-up after the New Year.

So here’s what I've got so far, in no particular order (except that the Caps are on top – just a little bias from a hometown girl):

- Glen Hanlon – Hugs is just one of those guys that everyone loves. He has a way of being so diplomatic in everything he says and does, and he has an empathy that makes him so completely likable. When Glen talks about the Caps he does so as a proud or disappointed father, not calling people out by name but making sure to praise them individually and as a group when they’ve done him proud. Don’t think for a second that his actions towards Bob Hartley during the Atlanta game lower his classy quotient – if anything, he earned the respect of every Caps fan and all of his players...not that he didn’t have that already.

- Chris Clark – ah, Clarkie Clarkie Clarkie. How do you not love this guy? He’s feisty and gritty on the ice, getting under the other team’s skin and setting an example for his younger teammates with every shift. Yet off the ice he comes across as the complete opposite, quiet and reserved but still a true leader through and through. Clark is always willing to talk to the media and seems glad to do it, no matter how tired he may be after a hard game or how upset he may be after a rough loss. He’s genial and soft-spoken, one of those guys who you know probably doesn’t say a lot but when he does guys take notice. We all know Olie is the true captain, but since goalies can’t wear the C, I can think of no one better to take the reins of this young team than Chris Clark.

- Joe Sakic – He’s one of my favorite players and has been for years – and at 37 years old, still one of the best players in the league. Sakic is a true captain, another soft-spoken guy who is always polite and diplomatic with the media and fans. He could have left Colorado for more money but instead chose to stay with the franchise that drafted him and would clearly like to finish his career with the Avs. He is a big reason that Colorado won 2 Stanley Cups and a big reason that Canada won the Olympic gold in 2002.

- Chris Drury – It’s no surprise that Drury turned out the way he did, because he had the benefit of playing with Sakic during his formative years as an NHLer. He has continuously and quietly put up great numbers every year, playing a clean but aggressive style of hockey that makes him hard to stop. Another one who is quiet when he needs to be (anyone else sensing a trend here?), he still works with the media well and is turning into a great leader in his own right. There’s a reason he was named co-captain in Buffalo, that’s for sure.

- Ron Wilson – Ron is anything but quiet; in fact, those of you who remember him as a coach here in DC probably know that once he starts talking it’s hard to shut him up. You can’t deny, though, that most of what he says is true. He’ll tell it like it is no matter what but never to the point of being mean or spiteful – he’s just honest, and you have to respect that. And he’ll do it all with a smile on his face or a twinkle of mischief in his eye. He has never been afraid to speak up for guys who may be underrated or undervalued, making sure that they always get their due respect. Just absolutely one of my favorite coaches...

There are many others who fit the descriptions I’ve given for players above: Hedican, Alfredsson, Conroy, Iginla, Gagne, Lidstrom, etc. The sideshow players who spend a lot of time talking yet seem to never have anything to say are few and far between in the NHL.

That being said, they do exist. I’ll unveil my choices for “The Loud and the Classless” after the holiday.

To be continued...

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