Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) hit the nail on the head when he said,
“Hockey toughness” is not about an individual player’s physical strength or fighting prowess. It’s about teammates protecting and defending one another, preserving together through adversity and pain. It’s not about a lack of fear but, rather, a willingness to face it head on.
On November 18th, 2016, halfway through the second period during a game between division rivals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, Blue Jackets’ left-winger, Matt Calvert, took a nasty slap shot to the face courtesy of the Rangers’ Nick Holden. (Video is bloody, be advised).
He was quickly helped off the ice and taken to the dressing room where he received 36 stitches.
One would assume that he would not see the ice again that night, but after passing a concussion test he took to the ice again mid-way through the third period. Not only did he come back to play in the same game but he also scored a short-handed goal which proved to be the game winner.
Calvert’s return to the ice that night after what should’ve been a game ending injury serves as only one example of why hockey players are some of the most physically impressive athletes in professional sports. On top of the physical toughness they also possess great amounts of mental toughness. Having to insert themselves into such a physically demanding situation when already injured takes insane amounts of courage.
Matt Calvert isn’t the only hockey player to have displayed this kind of perseverance. Here’s some ‘tough’ hockey history:
In the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Bobby Baun injured his leg badly enough that he had to leave the ice on a stretcher. He returned for overtime where he scored the game winner. It was later revealed that he did indeed have a broken leg.
Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers returned to the ice after breaking his jaw in a 2014 playoff game versus the Montreal Canadiens.
Boston Bruins’ Gregory Campbell blocked a shot during the 2013 playoffs which resulted in a broken fibula. Campbell got up and finished killing the penalty before leaving the ice.
The list goes on and on: endless amounts of lost teeth, stitches, breaks, and sprains. Injuries which would often see the best of athletes sidelined for anywhere from one game to a few months, hockey players simply shrug off as a minor inconvenience, showing us why hockey is a sport that demands respect, if for no other reason than the unmatched toughness of the players.