Hockey & Rock Music Are a Perfect Mix

Music plays an important part in our lives, there during the best times and worst times. When music works its way into sports, then the connection becomes that much stronger.

We’ve already read stories of musicians who’ve made an impact on the hockey community. THW’s Jon Zella wrote an amazing article on how the metal band Every Time I Die represents the city of Buffalo as well as the Sabres, keeping them close to their hearts. 

When you think of Canadian rock, you think of The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie’s love of incorporating the game into his lyrics.

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These are great examples of how music and hockey have made a strong connection. This relationship has been growing for years, and it continues to grow as more musicians and athletes find their common interest. With the way country, hip-hop and pop music are dominating the charts today, it may seem like rock is dead, but within the hockey community, it is still very much alive.

The Canadian Connection

The relationship between Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and Arkells frontman Max Kerman is interesting. They formally met in 2014 when Dubas’ wife Shannon arranged a meeting at a Toronto studio through a family friend. They connected instantly as they’re constantly on the go; Kerman with tours and planning events and Dubas with managing one of Toronto’s most historic sports franchises. 

The frontman of the Hamilton band, whose hits include “Whistleblower”, “Oh, The Boss is Coming!” and “Knockin’ At The Door” is close to the Toronto sports scene, previously performing on stage with Toronto Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse. “Knocking At The Door” was filmed around Toronto and has become a sports anthem because of its great blend of their upbeat rock sound and brass instruments. 

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“He’s so positive about everything, and so energetic,” Dubas said about Kerman. “And I find that people have to be able to walk that road between being really energetic and outgoing and not be cumbersome — really talented people walk it well, and it’s this very fine line, and he never ever even comes close to the line, while being engaging, energetic,” (from ‘School of rock — How Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and the Arkells’ Max Kerman found perfect harmony’, The Star– 02/16/20).

Dubas invited Kerman on the Maple Leafs’ mentors trip where Kerman got to see first hand what Dubas can do, managing calls, transactions and other aspects of his daily tasks. Despite their different professions, both share common values, similar interests and are constantly in contact sharing thoughts and ideas. Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, shared this observation of the relationship between the rock icon and the Maple Leafs’ general manager:

“They’re different, but similar. Max admires how Kyle treats every employee he meets as an equal, and takes time for people. Kyle loves how Max is a rock star who is still a real person, and is acutely approachable.” 

Both Dubas and Kerman make time for everyone and treat everybody with respect. Their personalities and approachable nature are why people respect them and what makes them role models that people look up to and admire.

Fans Who Bring the Intensity

When you think of hockey words come to mind like heavy, raw, emotional, aggressive, the list goes on. These words also describe rock music, in particular the metal genre.

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No band has been doing metal better lately than August Burns Red. With two Grammy nominations in 2016 and 2018 for Best Metal Performance, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania band has been making fans headbang since 2005, with their heavy sound and meaningful lyrics. Their latest album,  Guardians, does just that. 

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While he puts his heart and soul into his music, vocalist Jake Luhrs has become heavily involved in hockey. A Boston Bruins fan, he’s also a part of two beer league teams and tries to emulate a power-forward, that heavy style of play similar to his band’s music. Much like the power and intensity that comes from his band, Luhrs stated that he’s been analyzing the game’s best grinders, which includes Wayne Simmonds and Patrick Maroon. 

“Hockey has become a great release for me,” Luhrs said in a 2017 interview. “A way to decompress and it is my very own little community. The hockey locker room is truly like no other place. I would spend hours in there with my team talking life, hockey, etc. if I could. The challenge on the ice stirs me up. The fast pace of the game, the ability to get physical and battling for the puck. The risk of getting injured but for the sake of winning the game or helping out the teammate beside you. All of those things draw me to the game.”

Wayne Simmonds Buffalo Sabres
Jake Luhrs of August Burns Red lists Buffalo Sabres forward Wayne Simmonds as one of his influences. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Luhrs isn’t the only heavy metal musician with a major interest in hockey. Before his death in 2018 from heart complications, former Pantera and Hellyeah drummer Vinnie Paul found similarities between music and hockey. He was a well-known Dallas Stars fan and became instantly hooked when his city got a hockey team.

“Camaraderie is big,” Paul said in 2008. “The band members must have it with their crews, just as the players and their coaches.”

That is a pretty accurate description of the two professions. Playing on a hockey team, or any team, it becomes a second family for everyone. The same goes for musicians. Players and musicians travel a lot and see the same faces on a daily basis, building a bond with all of them.

Players Who Rock Out

We know about metal/rock musicians who have a connection with hockey, but what about players who listen to music? Most players might not listen to metal or rock, which makes it hard for those who do to control the music in the locker room.

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Bruins starting goaltender Tuukka Rask is barred from playing music because of his taste:

“I’m pretty much banned from the DJ job because I like to mix in some Finnish heavy metal tunes and the guys really don’t like that,” Rask said in an interview with Esquire in 2013. “So I just put on my headphones sometimes and keep it to myself.”

Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask New York Islanders Anthony Beauvillier
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask isn’t shy about his heavy metal music. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Rask’s music goes hard, with bands like Children of Bodom, and Finnish Metal staples HIM and Nightwish. They’re about as heavy as it gets. This is the kind of music that helps any athlete get in the mood for a game. It’s aggressive and as Rask puts it, “the music really gets you going.”

While any genre can help players get into the zone, something about rock/metal really brings out the intensity and the aggression. When I played, when a speaker was brought in, we played a mix of hip-hop, dance and rock. While the other genres helped get us pumped up, it was bands like Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch and Bullet For My Valentine that got everyone in the room going.

Former goaltender Mike McKenna, who played in both the NHL (for the Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars) and the American League in his career, shares the same musical interests as Rask, albeit a little more extreme and heavy like black and death metal. This is not my cup of tea, and it may not be for many others, but McKenna really enjoys it.

Mike McKenna
Former NHL and AHL goaltender Mike McKenna is a big fan of death and black metal. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

The journeyman goaltender was even featured in a music video, jamming and grooving to the band Ghost with their song “Dance Macabre” with other athletes and musicians.

The Tunes Carry Over to Video Games

While many of us enjoy the amazing EA NHL series, for years EA found artists to create a strong and hard-hitting soundtrack. So many bands in the rock community have had the opportunity to be on the soundtrack: There’s Bullet For My Valentine with “4 Words (To Choke Upon)” (NHL 06), “Your Betrayal” (NHL 11), and “Riot” (NHL 14); and Avenged Sevenfold with “Bat Country” (NHL 06), and “Afterlife” (NHL 09). Other bands include Black Veil Brides, Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Soundgarden, Shinedown and Papa Roach.

Recently Motionless in White, a rising band on the metal scene, had their single “Brand New Numb” featured in the most recent installment of the game.

NHL 20
NHL 20 continues it’s trend with creating great soundtracks involving rock music. (Courtesy of EA Sports)

The game isn’t short on Canadian content as well, especially from the punk scene. Treble Charger, GOB, Sum 41, Protest the Hero and Billy Talent have graced the soundtracks with many of their hits throughout the years.

No matter how you look at it, rock and metal have a strong connection to hockey. From artists as fans to players rocking out and getting pumped up for games, or even to turning on your gaming system, you’ll hear and feel the impact of this music on the sport.