I Love It When They Muck It Up and Grind It Out by @ChicksDigHockey - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, September 23, 2013

I Love It When They Muck It Up and Grind It Out by @ChicksDigHockey

Muckers and grinders. I love them. The role players. Nothing excites the fans faster than a big hit that results in a quick goal. Everybody has a role in hockey, as we all do in life. When it comes to hockey, there are guys, usually third and fourth liners, who specialize in going to rough areas. I’m talking about guys with skills who finish their checks, take a hit and pop back up. They can score a greasy goal and drop the gloves in the same shift. 

A Mucker is known as a physical player who may lack finesse but gets the job done by forechecking, and working the boards. He's not afraid to do the dirty work. Usually the term is used interchangeably or in connection with grinder and a mucker may play the role of enforcer from time to time.  

A Grinder is a player who digs deep and hustles to make plays. They are usually better known for checking and disruption rather than scoring ability. Yet, every GM knows a good grinder is essential to the bottom 6 forwards. Like a lineman in football, he works hard but rarely gets recognized for his hard work. While a grinder plays a physical style of hockey they are distinguished from an enforcer, whose role is more physical intimidation and engaging in the type of fights which often result in some of the stiffer penalties in hockey. A notable example of an enforcer was offered by Eric Godard when he left the bench to come to Brent Johnson's aid against Haley during the Pens-Islanders brawl in 2011, for which he received a 10 game suspension.  A grinder is tough to play against and knows how to take a hit. He often kills penalties as that aggressive puck blocking game is right up his alley. He becomes a very valuable player over the course of a seven-game series and wears down opposing forwards.

MY list, in no particular order, of the quintessential Pittsburgh Penguins Grinders:

A tough player who could put his share of pucks in the net, Gary Roberts was one tough customer. Roberts was with the Pens less than 2 seasons yet, mention his name to a hockey fan and you’re likely to draw a smile on their lips.  After being forced to retire because of a neck injury in 1996, Roberts fought his way back to the game he loves and went on to play for another 12 seasons, never fearing about his past injuries. Roberts became known for his phenomenal conditioning, fierce facial expressions and his, “Seriously? You do not want me to drop the gloves” attitude.

The beginning of Ulf Samuelsson's Wikipedia biography pretty much describes the role of a grinder: He specialized in heavy body checks and agitating opponents. He was loved among his fans and teammates for his sacrificing and tough playing style. He was a member of both the 1991 and 1992 Penguin Stanley Cup Teams. To many, Samuelsson will always be the one of the dirtiest players to ever lace up skates. He is remembered as the ”undisputed king of the cheap shot” and credited with ending the career of Cam Neely with an illegal knee-on-knee hit.

Starting out as a pure power forward, Rick Tocchet developed more into a grinder as his career went on. As his goal totals went down, Tocchet was relied upon more and more to be a defensive stalwart on the teams that he played for. In 1995-96 Zenith manufactured a set of trading cards called “Gifted Grinders” #5 was Rick Tocchet. Off the ice, he was ostensibly linked to Janet Gretzky in a sports betting ring and was detained by police in the Bahamas carrying $18.000 in cash. 

One of the more pesky players of the last generation of NHLers, Matthew Barnaby was always there to get under the opponent's skin. He would attempt to antagonize opposing players either by physical play or verbal incitation. Pests employ legal, illegal, or borderline tactics to accomplish their goals. He was known to trash talk endlessly and wasn’t above slashing and hooking while referees were not looking. Barnaby’s legacy lies somewhere between Mucker and Grinder favoring the distinction of Pest. The pest characterization has been used derogatorily, as a player who incites anger in the opposition but is unwilling to directly confront the result of their actions by engaging in fighting. Barnaby was such a notable pest that he was included in two lists: The 2001 Hockey Digest published a list of the NHL's best pests and in 2009; Sports Illustrated also included him in their own list of "Notable Pests of the NHL”.

Mike Rupp was a very solid grinder in his time as a Penguin. He is a versatile role player who can skate, score and drop the gloves. He is a mature voice in the locker room. Rupp has been forced into the role of enforcer as of late but he's far from a goon without measurable skills.

 Has there ever been a more controversial player than Matt Cooke? On one hand, he’s the perfect third line grinder; he can score, he excels on aggressive board play and he’s skilled on the PK. On the other hand, Cooke has had a reputation for being one of the game’s dirtiest players. He could single-handedly end world hunger and he would still be known as the guy who took out Marc Savard. He was given an ultimatum to clean up his game or be expelled from hockey. The gravity of his actions and a health scare for his wife weighed heavily on Cooke.

Matt felt coming into 2011-12 season, would be his one chance to become a different player, and he was willing to embrace it. In an interview with the Post-Gazette, Cooke proclaimed: “I’ve got this chance, and I need to look at it as an opportunity to show everybody that I can change my approach, that I can play within the rules. The rest of my career can be proving that it’s possible to change. It has to be about that. There’s no excuse for it not to be about that.” He did reform his style of play and by the end of the 2013 lockout season was the solid grinder he needed to be. He will join former Pens assistant and current Wild head coach Mike Yeo in Minnesota for the 2013- 14 season.

Craig Adams is an example of a solid grinder. He takes his place on the fourth line and goes almost unnoticed. He battles on the boards, sacrifices his body for the PK and will spend most of the season with a black eye. 

Max Talbot. I must confess he has been a long time favorite of mine. I love a smart-ass gritty hockey grinder. I believe the Pens underestimated what Talbot meant to the team on the ice as well as in the locker room. On the ice, he is an energy player who flies over the boards ready to do battle. I’ve seen him fly into the offensive zone and lay a hit on an unsuspecting defenseman steal the Puck and create a scoring chance.  He battles hard against the boards, kills penalties fearlessly, is an expert chirper, and drops the gloves without reservation. He understands the value of a well-placed fight whether he wins it or not (witness the iconic “Shhh…”) He bore the burden of leaving the Pens to follow the money to Philly when, in reality, the Pens let him go.

In the locker room he was the clown, the smart-ass but also the soul of the team. His departure from the Pens was their loss but Philly clearly appreciated the gain. In an interview with Philly.com, Laviolette said, "There is something visible about a guy like Max when he is on his game. You take a guy like that out of the locker room and you miss it…..he will be a big positive for our team." It was Talbot, you will remember, who scored both of the Penguins' goals in the seventh and deciding game of the series to capture the franchise's third Stanley Cup.

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