Hockey players are known for their humble nature. They’ve earned a reputation as some of the nicest guys in sports. However, with the fast-paced, hard-hitting nature of hockey, it’s understandable how that aggressive, stubborn attitude can seep into a player’s off-ice personality. Much like we try to separate the artist from his art, we also try to separate the player from the game. This is easy in theory, but tough in practice.
Sometimes a player snubs a fan's request for an autograph. Other times, he makes lewd comments about a player's girlfriend or family. In specific instances, legal issues cloud the on-ice image of these athletes. Hockey is an emotional game, and oftentimes players have a tough time hitting the "off" switch once the final horn sounds.
Yet, as in any sport, the National Hockey League is full of good guys, from Henrik Zetterberg, to Henrik Lundqvist, to Jarome Iginla. Even on-ice villains like Matt Cooke are known for their kindness towards fans off the ice.
Here are 10 NHL players who are jerks in real life and 10 who are sweethearts.
20 Jerk - Alex Burrows
From biting Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, to tapping Marc Staal in the nether regions during a regular season game, Burrows doesn't save his antics for any specific occasion.
Sports Illustrated named the Vancouver forward to its '10 Most Hated NHL Players' list in 2013. Burrows’ attitude issues are well-known. He'd take a dive, then balk at the ref for calling embellishment. He'd throw a dirty hit and give a clueless glance so as to deny culpability. He'd even get in a player's head by insulting his family. An example of this came when he insulted Jordin Tootoo's family while the two shared a penalty box during a game in 2015..
19 Sweetheart - Adam Graves
The Rangers franchise prides itself on its charitable efforts, whether it’s the annual Garden of Dreams charity night or its support of youth enrichment programs like Hockey in Harlem. Perhaps no Ranger embodied this charitable spirit more than forward Adam Graves. He may be retired, but Graves remains one of the most beloved Rangers of all time.
Affectionately known as "Gravey" by the MSG faithful, he spent ten years with New York, and scored a then franchise-record 52 goals during the Rangers' Cup-winning 1993-94 season. He exhibited leadership on the ice, as evidenced by his King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1994, and his Sporting News "Good Guy" Award in 2000. Yet, it was his community outreach that set him apart from others. Today, he runs the Rangers' youth hockey camp and is a regular participant at team charity events.
Graves is also co-founder of Smilezone, a foundation that works to create a warm, kid-friendly environment for families going through crises. Graves' foundation has lent reprieve to families dealing with cancer and other illnesses.
18 Jerk - Sean Avery
Sean Avery isn’t exactly a bastion of honor and class in the National Hockey League. Avery was an effective pest at times with the Rangers. He would goad opponents into taking unnecessary penalties and agitate other teams’ stars. However, he crossed a line when he intentionally stood in front of New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur during a playoff game, waving his stick in front of Brodeur’s face and impeding his field of vision.
The NHL even drafted a new rule, aptly named the “Sean Avery Rule” that prohibited such blatant screening of goaltenders. Avery took his disdain for the Devils’ goalie one step further, saying during a postgame interview “Fatso (referring to Brodeur) has always been a big whiner.”
17 Sweetheart - Alex Ovechkin
He may be a thorn in your team’s side when he lights the lamp on the ice, but Ovechkin doesn’t harbor the same ruthlessness off the ice. His exuberant celebrations and cocky attitude are matched only by his selfless, playful nature when not suited up in his red and white Caps colors.
The Washington captain is an active participant in the team's Make-A-Wish initiatives, including inviting ill children to visit the team and participate in practice skates. Back on "Hockey Fights Cancer" night in November, he gave a young cancer survivor a pair of his laces from the warm-up skate. He also went on a sushi date with a 10-year-old girl afflicted with Down Syndrome, and even brought her flowers and a personalized jersey.
On top of all these humble acts, Ovechkin also plays in charity hockey games back in his native Russia, and donated a hockey rink and equipment for foster children at a local orphanage.
16 Jerk - Brendan Shanahan
Brendan Shanahan’s dominance and leadership on the ice cannot be questioned. Shanny’s career highlights include 12 30-plus goal seasons, and three Stanley Cup Championships. However, at the peak of his career, the St. Louis Blues forward became embroiled in an extramarital affair with a teammate’s wife. Shanahan was involved with Craig Janney’s wife, Catherine.
The tensions simmered over in the locker room during the 1994-95 season, and Shanahan was promptly shipped to Hartford at season’s end to help diffuse the situation.
15 Sweetheart - Duncan Keith
Any hockey player who has his own cereal brand is pretty cool in my book. A hockey player who donates the proceeds from said cereal brand to charity? That’s a winner all around. “Keith Krunch” is the latest addition to Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith’s charity, Keith Relief.
Keith Relief provides financial and emotional assistance for families dealing with medical crises. Keith Relief was founded in 2011 as a partner of Ronald McDonald House Charities. Keith Relief also sponsors local charity concerts in the Chicago community.
14 Jerk - Evander Kane
Perhaps there is something about the name “Kane” that evokes controversy. Evander Kane was a high pick in his draft class, but unlike Patrick Kane, didn’t always give 100 percent effort on the ice. His attitude issues would persist into the locker room, where his Winnipeg Jet teammates grew tired of his shtick.
Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien even went so far as to toss Kane’s clothes into the shower to voice his displeasure. Kane was promptly traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where his arrogance eventually caused legal troubles.
13 Sweetheart - Shawn Thornton
Shawn Thornton is a pest on the ice, but his hard-nosed game has made him a fan favorite in Boston. Thornton shows an unflinching willingness to stick up for any of his teammates. Off the ice, Thornton is just as dedicated to helping his community.
He heads up The Shawn Thornton Foundation, which raises awareness for Parkinson's disease and provides avenues of funding for research into possible cures. The Foundation hosted its third annual "Putts and Punches for Parkinson's" at the Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, MA last August.
Bruins fans enjoyed a round of golf with Thornton, as well as dinner, a raffle, and a silent auction.
12 Jerk - Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane is arguably the greatest American-born player in the NHL today. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Kane has averaged over a point a game throughout his career. Yet, for all his on-ice greatness, his off-ice troubles have soured an otherwise perfect image.
As is the case with a good number of athletes, he enjoys partying and staying out late at clubs. However, showing up drunk to a college party, as he did during Cinco De Mayo weekend in Madison, Wisconsin in 2012, isn’t very becoming of a professional hockey player. Forget about the alleged 2015 assault allegations (which were later dropped) and consider his 2009 assault on a Buffalo cab driver. None of us enjoy being ripped off by cabbies, but Kane took his anger a bit too far after a night of clubbing. Kane handed a Buffalo cabbie $15 for a $13.80 fare, but the driver was unable to make change.
Kane allegedly attacked the driver and took back the money. Kane pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, thus avoiding more serious charges of misdemeanor assault, theft and harassment.
11 Sweetheart - T.J. Oshie
Oshie rose to prominence for his shootout heroics at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but the veteran forward was already a hero in the eyes of many at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He initially became involved in Make-A-Wish during his days with the St. Louis Blues. He met a young fan named Chris Hendrickson, who was affected with Morquio syndrome, a rare cell and bone disorder.
Oshie invited Hendrickson for a skate at Scottrade Center and gave him the game puck from that evening's matchup.
10 Jerk - Steve Downie
Forget the plethora of penalty minutes that Downie accrued over his career (over 100 PIM four times, over 200 twice), and focus on the two separate 20-game suspensions he earned. The first came during the 2007-08 pre-season, where the then-rookie Flyers forward left his feet to cross check Ottawa winger Dean McAmmond into the boards. The second came when he slashed an AHL linesman during a February 2009 game against the Hershey Bears.
Perhaps worst of all was Downie’s implication in a hazing incident during his junior hockey career with the Windsor Spitfires. Downie cross checked rookie Akim Aliu during a team practice in 2005, knocking out three teeth. This heinous act was supposedly sparked by Akim’s refusal to partake in rookie hazing rituals.
9 Sweetheart - Daniel Alfredsson
When the Ottawa Senators selected Daniel Alfredsson with the 133th overall pick in 1994, they never could’ve imagined how the young Swede would become one of the best two-way forwards in recent memory.
Alfredsson set team franchise records for goals (426) assists (682) and points (1,108) in his 17-year run with the Senators. “Alfie,” as fans knew him, led the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, where he scored 22 points in 20 games.
However, his proudest accomplishment as a Senator may be his community outreach within the Ottawa community. These gestures include his involvement with mental health advocacy at the Royal Ottawa Foundation, as well as his leadership in the Ottawa Senators Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.
8 Jerk - Kevin Stevens
Staying in a new city invites adventurous possibilities for exploring the trendiest restaurants or newest nightclubs. Professional athletes are no different, as many turn up at clubs and hot spots during off-nights. Former New York Ranger Kevin Stevens took his clubbing shenanigans a bit too far after a win against the St. Louis Blues at the Kiel Center.
Stevens hailed a cab after leaving a local nightclub and was en route to East St. Louis when the cab driver phoned a lady of the night. According to the woman’s testimony, Stevens was already "out of it" when she entered the cab. Stevens gave her money for her services, and had the cabbie drive the two of them to a motel.
The pair continued their unruly behaviour at the motel when police were alerted and arrested Stevens. He spent a night in jail, and subsequently entered the NHL Substance Abuse Program.
7 Sweetheart - Jarome Iginla
Jerome Iginla’s mix of skill and selflessness sets him apart from most NHL stars. The 6-foot-1 power forward can score, hit, and fight, oftentimes all in one game. He captained the Calgary Flames for 10 seasons. While not leading his team on the ice, Iginla undertook numerous charitable efforts in the Calgary area.
These included the Jarome Iginla Hockey School, which donates its proceeds to the Diabetes Research Association. Iginla has also received the Mark Messier Leadership Award, the NHL Foundation Player Award (for community service), and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his “humanitarian contributions.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Iginla donates to charity for every goal he scores. From 2000-2005 he donated $1,000 per goal, but has increased that contribution to $2,000 since 2005.
6 Jerk - Ed Belfour
Sometimes it’s tough for a player to leave his emotion on the ice. Ed Belfour experienced this problem first-hand after a night of drinking back in March of 2000. The Dallas Stars netminder checked into a hotel with an unidentified woman, who reportedly became concerned with his level of inebriation.
After calling hotel security, she left in a cab. Belfour made the ill-advised decision to follow her. Security guards subdued him, and that’s where things truly went haywire.
Belfour decided to defend himself, as he proceeded to fight one of the guards. Belfour was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, and spent six hours in jail before being released on bond.
5 Sweetheart - Shane Doan
Much like Alfredsson in Ottawa, perhaps no hockey player means more to his city than Shane Doan means to Phoenix. There have been many stories of Doan’s hospitality to ‘Yotes fans. From pausing his pregame warm-ups to wish a fan’s daughter good luck in her softball game, to signing a stick for a young fan outside the team’s arena, Doan’s altruism knows no bounds. He even paid the health insurance costs for the Coyotes staff during the 2004-05 lockout season.
Doan remained in Arizona despite the team’s lack of playoff success and recent ownership issues. This commitment shows a sense of loyalty unrivaled among NHL stars.
4 Jerk - Mike Ribeiro
Ribeiro’s transgressions were akin to Shanahan’s in that they involved extramarital affairs. Yet, there were a few key differences. Ribiero was accused of making advances on his former nanny, dating back to his time with the Dallas Stars in 2007. According to court documents filed in 2015, the advances grew more severe as Ribeiro changed cities and joined the Washington Capitals in 2012.
Ribeiro’s wife, Tamara, asked the nanny to join them in the move, which culminated in a 2012 incident where the nanny awoke to find Ribeiro next to her. The abuse evolved into full-on assault before she took action.
3 Sweetheart - Mike Fisher
The Predators named Mike Fisher their team captain after a solid playoff performance. Yet, for all his recent accomplishments on the ice, Fisher’s accolades off the ice are even more impressive.
Fisher has immersed himself in community-building causes for the entirety of his career. He participated in numerous Make-A-Wish initiatives and skated in several charity games during his time in Ottawa. He also ran his own hockey camp through Hockey Ministries International.
In Nashville, Fisher earned the 2012 NHL Foundation Player of the Year for his many acts of community outreach. These included a $40,000 donation to Cottage Cove, a spiritual ministry helping inner-city youth in Nashville. He also donated a portion of proceeds from the sales of his autobiography to Room in the Inn, a local homeless shelter.
2 Jerk - Slava Voynov
Slava Voynov had a great career ahead of him in 2014. The 24-year-old defenseman had just captured his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, and looked to continue his hot play as one of the Kings' top young blueliners.
However, that all changed in October 2014 when Voynov was arrested on domestic violence charges. His wife, Marta, alleged that he attacked her. The NHL suspended him indefinitely. Yet, as is often the case with domestic violence victims, Marta told prosecutors that her husband hadn't meant to hurt her, and that she didn't want him charged.
Voynov pleaded not guilty to the charge, but later accepted a lesser no contest plea on a misdemeanor charge in July 2015. He was ordered to serve 90 days in jail, along with three years of probation.
1 Sweetheart - P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban no longer plays in Montreal, but his charitable actions to the local community can't go unnoticed. The former Norris Trophy winner donated $10 million to the Montreal Children's Hospital in 2015. That contribution stands as the largest single charitable donation ever by a Canadian athlete.
Subban followed up this donation by organizing "Winter Wonderland," holiday-themed party and playground for kids at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He also co-founded "P.K's Helping Hands" a charity providing financial assistance to families struggling with medical bills for their child's illness.
Despite his trade to Nashville, Subban vowed to continue his charity work in Montreal. At least in the Music City, he'll have no issues ingratiating himself into the community.
After all, he has the aforementioned Mike Fisher to help guide his charitable efforts down the right avenues in his new home.
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