Growing up watching hockey in Boston you understood early on what an NHL enforcer was. It wasn’t ‘when will the Bruins enforcer step up?’ It was, ‘which Bruins enforcer will step up?’
If you can play, the fact that you can fight shouldn’t take away from the fact that you can play. -Shawn Thornton, Former NHL Enforcer
Times have changed and “goon” hockey has tailed off. These days holding a roster spot for a one-dimensional enforcer doesn’t make sense for a competing club. In reality, the “Mike Tyson-on-skates” type players I watched as a kid would have a hard time finding full-time NHL jobs today.
Which is why today’s enforcer has to be more like Ryan Reaves, a hybrid of equal parts power forward and sheriff. Being tough isn’t good enough anymore. Teams expect “heavies” to forecheck, create traffic, add points, and knock opponents on their ass.
None of us really love it. We do it because we’re good at it. You work on the other part of the game, because that’s what will keep you around. You work twice, three times as hard on being a better hockey player every single day so you can contribute. -Thornton
I had a chance to catch up with longtime league enforcer Shawn Thornton after last week’s Florida Panthers and Golden Knights game. Thornton was one of the league’s most lethal weapons on the ice. He protected some of the league’s elite from Teemu Selanne, Patrice Bergeron, and Jaromir Jagr. In 14 NHL seasons, Thornton participated in 158 fights, including one with Reaves.
He’s arguably the toughest guy in the league, but the fact he can play the game and contribute that’s what makes him valuable. That’s where the game is nowadays. There were a lot of players that were pushed out, he was not one of them. Rightfully so. He can contribute to the game and not just for what we’re known for doing. -Thornton
Thornton stressed Reaves isn’t close to the same style of player that he was. In his playing days, a thumper wasn’t expected to be well-rounded. Today’s game requires all players to be multi-dimensional on the ice, like Reaves has been.
In my opinion, intimidation is a part of life. When you’re in an arena that’s two hundred by eighty-five with no out of bounds, it’s amplified. I think there will always be a space in hockey. Sometimes it’s a pressure cooker and a fight will be the thing that pops the top off… but there’s no more room in the league for a one-dimensional guy, and I’m actually very okay with that. -Thornton
Like Reaves, Thornton was able to get his team and fans up on their feet with one chirp, hit, or knockout. He’s beloved in Boston and is the epitome of a player that’ll never have to buy his own drink again. The retired Thornton does admit he would’ve preferred spending less time in the sin bin and more time on the box score. I bet Reaves would agree.
Doesn’t matter who you are, you’re more excited when you score a goal then you are punching someone in the head. -Thornton
After his goal in the Western Conference final, Reaves is already on Thornton’s path to free drinks for life. In fact, it will work out even better for the Golden Knight. Anytime someone asks Reaves “what are you drinking?” He’ll reply, “Training Day. 7Five Brewing.”
Reaves will be drinking for free and making money to boot. Now that is well-rounded.