What do you think of when you think of NHL tough guys? Is it someone who is gritty? Physical? Drops the gloves? Is it a Milan Lucic or maybe a Jarome Iginla? You probably don’t readily think of Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin.
Perhaps you should.
Wednesday night, in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Sedin extended his iron man streak to 600 consecutive games played, a longer streak than any other Vancouver player has ever reached. You don’t survive that many games without injury if you don’t possess some level of toughness.
People who don’t see the Canucks play on a regular basis may scoff at the notion that Sedin is a tough guy. The hockey world narrative of Sedin, his brother and the Canucks team is that of a despicable band of soft, cheap divers. The opposite of tough.
Those who watch the team play on a regular basis know full well how tough he is.
Sure, he doesn’t fit the standard hockey definition of tough. He doesn’t throw bruising checks and he never drops the gloves. How can he be tough? Are we talking about the same guy, and his brother, that people refer to as ‘sisters’ in a derogatory, not to mention misogynist, way?
Yeah, that guy.
So how is he tough?
He has survived 600 straight games without fail. He has had to face the oppositions top defensive line, and more importantly, their top defensemen. We are talking about the Shea Weber’s of the world. Sedin has a target on his back every time he steps on the ice, every time he gets the puck.
This was never more evident than last year’s playoff series when the Canucks were without Henrik’s brother, Daniel. Henrik was target number one, something the Kings Dustin Brown cashed in on.
Henrik survived that hit without missing a beat.
Watching Henrik and his brother cycle the puck down low you see them take more abuse than Don Cherry’s tailor does. He gets cross-checked, slashed and pounded into the boards. Not only does he, and his brother, generally not give the puck up but they usually turn those plays into great scoring chances.
The common conception, and misconception, of hockey toughness says you have to be a bruiser, and drop the gloves from time to time to ‘fire up the team’. But is that any tougher than taking abuse down low, in order to score? Is that tougher than fighting through brutal defenseman and defensive forwards to score on a consistent basis? Does anything fire up your team more than setting up a power play goal after their supposed tough guy took a stupid penalty?
So perhaps Sedin is not the stereotypical tough guy. But then he’s never been stereotypical has he? He’s got a twin (which seems to turn people off for some unexplained reason), he’s Swedish and he would rather make pin point passes than shoot. These are all things that make him a great player, as well as his toughness, which has gone unnoticed by most hockey fans and pundits is all part of his game.
Perhaps it’s time we expand the definition of what it is to be a tough guy.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.