James Wisniewski is quite the character. Though some see an all-American good ol' boy with sandy blond hair and green eyes, the wide, toothless smile is a dead giveaway.
The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman projects what comes to mind when picturing a hockey player -- tough, rugged, dependable, sort of like a Ford pickup -- but shows bursts of speed and flashes of offense, comparable to a drag-racing Ford Mustang.
Wisniewski certainly has been in the driver's seat this season, posting a breakout year with seven goals, 19 assists, 26 points, a plus-11 rating and 103 penalty minutes in 66 games, shattering last season's totals of 2-8-10 in 50 games. He has also emerged as one of many young leaders in just his second season in the NHL, and despite being just 6 feet tall and weighing 207 pounds, he isn't afraid to take on the League's heavyweight enforcers.
On March 23, he scored a game-tying goal, had an assist, and was a plus-4 in a 4-3 overtime win against St. Louis -- an integral game that earned points toward a possible playoff berth.
"I try to play an all-around game -- hit, fight, score goals, make plays and make things happen," Wisniewski said. "I try to be somewhat of a leader, but I think we're all leaders in this locker room. I think everyone does their part to contribute to the team."
It seems Wiz, as he's known by his teammates, finally is feeling comfortable -- and not only on the ice.
Teammates named the 25-year-old Wisniewski his own biggest fan in a poll published in a March issue of a game-night program. Maybe it's some good-natured payback for the many practical jokes and ribbing by the quick-tongued defenseman. But that's Wiz being Wiz -- joking is his forte -- and his jovial demeanor is a reason he's so beloved by teammates and fans, despite his lurking mischief.
Wisniewski can't help but talk smack about Brent Seabrook
's embarrassing golf game.
"Seabs is embarrassing," said Wisniewski. "I just laugh at him and give him grief."
Not even the media is safe from Wisniewski.
Recently, the admittedly fashion-deficient defenseman "fined" Chicago radio personality Joe Rozanski $100 for the exact same fault, but instead of wearing bad shoes, as Wisniewski is known for, Rozanski was wearing a bad sweater. A really bad sweater. While getting post-game quotes in the team dressing room, Wisniewski walked over to the unassuming fashion victim, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I just wanted to make sure it was you," and wrote "JOE ROZANSKI FINED $100 BAD SWEATER" on the team's dry-erase lineup board.
Rozanski chirped, "I wore this sweater all day and no one said anything."
"That's awful, man. You got to dump that one," Wisniewski zinged back while cracking a smile.
"I'm always getting grief for my own style, and always for my shoes -- mostly for my shoes," Wisniewski confessed. "It was nice to give some of that grief back."
Even though the fine was a joke, the fashion faux paspaid off for a good cause. Rozanski made a deal to pay the $100 fine in exchange for an autographed Wisniewski jersey to be donated to the charity of Rozanski's choosing.
Wisniewski is just a good guy, whether he's caught red-handed defacing teammate Jonathan Toews
' SUV by making lovely heart-shapes with whipped cream, or trying to convince people Patrick Sharp
, Duncan Keith
, Adam Burish, Seabrook and himself spend time at a local Starbucks with their own Oprah Winfrey-style book club.
| |Sign up here
for your FREE Playoff Fantasy Hockey Challenge
team, exclusively on NHL.com.
"Burish is the president because he has the biggest jaw," Wisniewski said loud enough for Burish to hear.
"Well, we actually meet up at Borders, not Starbucks, and I'm the president because I have the biggest brain," responds Burish, who was an economics major at Wisconsin.
"And Cam Barker over there …," Wisniewski said, starting in on his defensive partner.
The whole room howls. It's just another day at the office.
Author: Marcie Garcia | NHL.com Correspondent