Apr 16, 2001
Heroes are made, not born. There is no better source than the grueling battles that take place each year in the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The pursuit of hockey's holy grail motivates athletes like no other prize. Superbowls are nice and a World Series trophy is fine, but can there be anything better than having your name engraved on the Stanley Cup, the most historic trophy in sports?
Such motivation leads players to hide injuries, play through intense pain and endure a physically exhausting championship quest. Along the way the men we call heroes dig a little deeper and find a way to take their games to the next level.
Playoff heroes are players who go above and beyond. They make special plays, they score big goals and they deliver bone-crushing hits when it matters the most. To put it simple, playoff heroes find a way to win.
Examples are numerous. Remember Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal against the St. Louis Blues with pictures taken of him flying through the air? Or Pat LaFontaine scoring in game 7 against Washington in the fourth overtime of a seemingly endless game?
Who could be considered more of a playoff hero than Mark Messier? The 6-time winner of the Stanley Cup has done it all. He helped lead the Edmonton Oilers to four championships in the 1980's and one in the post-Gretzky 1990's. But maybe his biggest feat was leading the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in over 50 years, at one point guaranteeing a victory over New Jersey in the conference finals.
It seems that each year, somebody steps up to take center stage. Usually that player is rewarded with the Conn Smyth Trophy. But there have been plenty of heroes who have not captured that honor. Think back to last year. Jason Arnott was certainly considered a hero for the New Jersey Devils last year even though Scott Stevens got top honors. But there was nothing more heroic than Arnott's overtime goal in the finals to deliver Devils' fans their second Stanley Cup.
Maybe the one position in hockey that produces the most heroes is goaltender. Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent and Bill Ranford are all names of the past that rose to the occasion when there were needed the most. The same can be said about current greats Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.
How about goalie Billy Smith of the New York Islanders? His regular season stats were never the greatest, but when the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled around there were none better. The same can be said of Grant Fuhr of the Edmonton Oilers. Both were responsible for backstopping their respective clubs to several championships.
Why are there so many heroes that play goal? Simply because no other position carries the same amount of pressure. Numerous players can score goals, but only one is responsible for stopping them.
Goaltenders cannot do it alone, no matter how heroic. Hockey is a true team game and no hero can endure the demanding playoff battles without a great supporting cast. What they can do is provide a great example for teammates of the dedication required to capture the Stanley Cup.
Which players will step up and become this year's heroes? Odds are you won't have to look too far. Hockey players are a special breed of athlete. They play the most physically demanding sport, but have enormous reserves of heart and intensity. To our hockey heroes, dealing with the pressure packed playoffs is as simple as riding a bike.
Your own opinions can be expressed in the message forums.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.