In a mid-season game in January last season, Brian Boyle, then playing with the New York Rangers had an opportunity to absolutely annihilate Victor Hedman against the boards. Playing his usual gritty style of play, Brian Boyle hit Hedman hard into the boards. There was little doubt that Hedman felt the shot as he was down for a bit before gingerly skating back to Tampa’s bench.
The interesting part of this interaction was Lightning Coach Jon Cooper after the game, when asked about this particular hit: “I’ve got to give Boyle a lot of credit for being a hockey player in the game and not trying to hurt somebody.” It is not often when an opposing coach raves about a player that isn’t on his roster.
Most NHL fans know quite a few players that would have tried to plaster Hedman through to the other side of the glass. Not Brian Boyle. That isn’t how he plays the game. He respects his opponents.
Now before this begins to sound completely altruistic on Boyle’s part, that isn’t the case either. You see, Brian Boyle knows that in the last few years the NHL is working on cracking down on hits that are made to cause injury. Smart guy, that Brian Boyle. Has respect for himself and his team as well.
AT 6’7”, Boyle definitely has an imposing figure. One of the tallest guys in the league, you couldn’t blame him for thinking as a big guy, perhaps he has a bulls eye on his uniform so the league can protect the smaller guys.
All that is immaterial as despite having a reputation for being a grinder, a guy who mixes it up in the corners, Brian Boyle does not have a reputation as a head hunter. Perhaps it’s because he takes an intelligent view of the physicality of this fast paced game. In an interview with New York Rangers Radio Analyst Dave Maloney, Boyle said “You want to play a physical game and you want to run guys over but when their back is turned you need to pull up. The point of the game is to get the puck back and you want to set a ton and be physical but something scary like that happens, it’s good to be a little cautious in certain areas and I have dealt with a concussion and dealt with injuries, you don’t want to wish that upon anyone.”
I am sure that many players in the league play with this mindset. It is refreshing to hear that despite playing such a physically brutal game, players like Brian Boyle see the level of respect one must have towards the game. Not to mention their teammates. Penalties hurt the team and pulling up on a hit that could be called is showing the respect a player has for his team.
You see, going back to that day last January, it was two months before the Ryan Callahan – Marty St. Louis trade. Both teams for jockeying for playoff spots. It was six months before Brian Boyle would officially become a Tampa Bay Lightning.
You never know how the puck will bounce in this game. You never know who will be traded. You never know who will ultimately be your teammate or coach. Brian Boyle had no idea when he pulled up on that hit to Victor Hedman that today they would be teammates.
Jon Cooper had no idea when he answered a reporter’s question that January day that he’d be coaching Brian Boyle today. It is about respect and perhaps that’s a life lesson for all of us. Play hard but play fair. Show respect and you will receive it back tenfold. Brian Boyle plays with respect for the game, for himself and his teammates and for his opponents. This is the kind of guy I love having on our team.