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Similarities between hockey, heavy metal abound

Wednesday, 08.20.2008 / 10:12 AM / NHL Insider

By Doug Karda - NHL.com Correspondent


There are many similarities between hockey and heavy metal. Talent, unity and intensity are key factors for success in both.
Take a moment to think about all the great partnerships in life -- pairs that when one comes to mind, the other immediately and instinctively follows: Peanut butter and jelly, movies and popcorn, baseball and Cracker Jack.

These days, hockey and heavy metal is another symbiotic relationship to be included in that list.

Why do hockey and heavy metal fit together so well?

Mike Levine, a member of the Canadian power trio Triumph, has one answer, delivered tongue-and-cheek: "Other than (both are) usually played by a group of guys in hockey rinks who travel around a lot?"

Seriously though, these two disparate entities have become interwoven in the last little while. When you scratch the surface, hockey and heavy-metal music -- heck, any kind of music -- have more similarities than you might think.

Talent -- To make it in either the NHL or in the world of heavy metal, it takes a whole lot of talent. Sure, talent has to be somewhat of a given, but it's still a point to mention in this relationship. Each discipline boasts a specific type of talent that musicians in other genres or athletes other than hockey players can't possibly possess. 

You will never find a Milli Vanilli in the world of metal. There is no lip-syncing, no faking it and absolutely no pop music-style, cookie-cutter, pretty face that can sing and dance, but has no inkling of a G-clef. Heavy-metal musicians, for the most part, are craftsmen who put in an endless amount of work and creativity to produce their art.

Hockey is no different.  The talents and abilities of NHL players is of a level that very few can truly comprehend.

Years back, I was at a morning skate for the worst team in hockey at the time. At the very end, there were only the healthy scratches and backup goaltender left. These remaining players weren't good enough to start on the worst team in hockey. They were flipping pucks to each other and smacking them in the net out of mid-air. They were taking breakaway practice and roofing the puck while shooting from between their legs. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle, especially considering the actual players playing that night were even more skilled.

Vinnie Paul, current Hellyeah drummer who first made a name for himself with Pantera, understands this dynamic better than most. Pantera, based out of Dallas, is one of the biggest -- and loudest -- metal bands in history.

"When the Stars came to Dallas, I ran into Craig Ludwig, we started talking and I told him how much I'd really like to go to a game," Paul said. "He hooked me up with seats the very next night to the next game and I was just floored. 

"When I saw how fast and brutal, just how incredibly talented the skaters are … to me, a hockey player has to be every sport rolled into one: ice skater, baseball player, football player, etc. It's just incredible to watch!"

When I saw how fast and brutal, just how incredibly talented the skaters are … to me, a hockey player has to be every sport rolled into one: ice skater, baseball player, football player, etc. It's just incredible to watch! - Vinnie Paul
Unity -- It is synergy and team play that differentiates the truly great band or team from all the pretenders to the throne.

Paul has been among the metal elite for many years and is as big a hockey fan as anyone.  His proximity to the game and to certain members of the Dallas Stars has allowed himself to see the career similarities first hand. 

"Camaraderie is big," says Paul. "The band members must have it with their crews, just as the players and their coaches."

In music, every note must be timed precisely to achieve the desired result. More so, each crew member must play his role and be on the same page as the band for the show to go off without a hitch. The same can be said on the ice. Behind the players are coaches, trainers, medical staff, video specialists, equipment managers and more. Only when every individual is in sync can a team truly reach its potential.

Levine turns serious on this subject, linking his passion for music with Canada's passion for hockey.

"It's about teamwork," Levine says. "Music requires the teamwork of the guys in the band, and like hockey, everybody's got to be coordinated.  So it requires a lot of practice and a certain state of mind to be able to keep yourself up when perhaps you really don't feel like doing so."

Intensity -- This is the fuel that propels both heavy-metal music and the sport of hockey. It is required to fashion a meaningful performance in either arena.

"Camaraderie is big, the band members must have it with their crews, just as the players and their coaches." --Vinnie Paul
You won't find a successful hockey player lacking passion and intensity on the ice. It just never happens. The same can be said for heavy-metal practitioners, who have made their willingness to leave it all on the stage each night a calling card.

Dallas Stars forward Jere Lehtinen has been a long-time fan of heavy metal music. He points to an attitude in the music that he also sees in successful hockey teams.

Ludwig, who was as intense a defenseman as has ever played the game, also understands the mindset that makes musicians and hockey players rise above the pack of their peers.

"I guess the word that comes to mind is intensity," Ludwig said. "These guys, when you're around them, they're intense at their job. Hockey players are the same.  It's all they know. They've been doing it since they were kids. Their intensity and their drive, they've wanted to do all their lives."

Paul, the drummer, sees an even more basic underpinning that the two forums share: "The sheer brutality, the speed; the game is just so intense and that's what hard rock is all about. The intensity, pushing that level up further and further."

Of course, that energy is very hard to maintain through long stretches. Sickness, exhaustion and personal issues take their toll on everyone, even elite-level performers. But those performers have a trick of getting past these lulls that they are happy to share. It's all about the fans, they say. Without fans, sports and music disappear -- period. Fortunately, metal fans and hockey supporters are among the most passionate groups around.

If you happen to be a die-hard fan of either group, it's a safe bet you've found yourself in the minority now and again. Both hockey and metal, by their very nature, are the province of fanatics. They may not boast the number of followers attracted to other sports and musical styles, but it is anecdotally clear that hockey and metal fans are as passionate -- if not more so -- than any other group of fans.

Levine stressed the similarity of the fan experience shared by hockey players and musicians.

"We both feed off the crowd," Levine said. "Most teams obviously prefer to play at home because they have the crowd on their side. I guess there's a slight difference because in rock and roll/heavy metal, there is no home team. In every hockey rink, we get a home crowd."

Ludwig, retired for several years, still recalls the power of the crowd, the magic that a wave of noise can generate as it builds from the rafters and just washes over the players on the ice.

"As a player, you're sitting there and it just seems to fit," Ludwig said. "You want to -- and you need to -- hear it loud; especially when there's not a lot of life in the building.  That's when guys start tapping their legs and hitting each other." 

Then the adrenaline begins to flow, energy picks up, and it snowballs.

It's no wonder there seems to be a lot of professional jealousy between hockey players and metal musicians.

"For some reason, at least with the guys I've been around, we've always said that rock stars want to be hockey players and the hockey players want to be rock stars," says James LaBrie, lead singer of Canadian metal outfit Dream Theater.

Now you know why each side harbors dreams of filling the shoes/skates of the other. Their jobs are more common than anyone imagined.


Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp